Nomination for Best Medical Journalism of 2006 (thus far)
I'm in the midst of reviewing grant applications for a US research funding agency and have been pretty frazzled and distracted from blogging. I couldn't stomach writing a post on this week's press citing mostly negative outcomes from a trial of glucosamine and chondroitin in patients with mild arthritis pain, the Glucosamine/chondroitin Arthritis Intervention Trial (GAIT).
However, most journalists missed the boat on the trial because few read more than the largely negative press release from the New England Journal of Medicine. A more insightful analysis, such as that done by Jennifer Corbett Dooren in the Wall Street Journal, reveals that the subgroup of patients with more severe knee pain actually had significantly more pain relief than those given placebo. In fact, Ms. Dooren's article was one of very few in the US that led with the positive findings. (If you don't have access to WSJ, e-mail me and I can send you a link from my personal account that's good for 7 days).
Anyway, I mention this article mostly because I'm growing tired of sloppy medical journalism. The tendency these days is for writers to increasingly rely on journal press releases and just parrot the findings without doing their own critical analyses. Some have raised real concerns about the motivation of NEJM in spinning the glucosamine/chondroitin results to minimize the positive news. But, to get the complete objective story you'd actually have to read the article yourself, or rely on journalists like Jennifer Dooren who are among the rare exceptions.
With that said, I want to bring readers to the attention of two phenomenal posts this week by Kathleen Seidel at Neurodiversity and physician-scientist blogger, Orac, in his now fully-functional new digs at the ScienceBlogs brand of Respectful Insolence.
The Seidel/Orac brain trust is my nominee for best medical journalism of 2006 (thus far).
This tag team has brought us an exhaustive analysis of new claims by mercury-autism advocates and the unethical and dangerous proposal to use Lupron (leuprolide) to treat children with autism. Having spent half of my postdoc in a division of endocrinology was enough for my bullshit-detector to go haywire when I first learned of the idea to use a GnRH agonist chronically, known widely as "chemical castration," to treat autistic children.
Key to their analyses is the strong, well-supported proposal by Kathleen Seidel that lazy journalists are complicit in the promotion of outrageous, unscientific claims of so-called experts who lack the credentials to be so considered.
Like many scientists, I used to grow glassy-eyed at any of the pseudoscientific and baseless claims that autism is due to mercury poisoning from thimerosal in vaccines, that autism could be cured by chelation, etc., because I thought these were just wacky claims from a fringe element. What I've learned is that relatively influential and financially-motivated persons in the autism community are creating medical danger for hundreds of thousands of children by preying on rightfully concerned parents who are swayed easily by emotional, but non-scientific, arguments.
If you've ever blown off the mercury-autism story as that of "just a bunch of crazies," I urge you to take 20 minutes today and first read Kathleen's detailed background, then Orac's medical deconstruction of the bizarre world of a dangerous, rogue physician/lawyer team.
As I've seen on a bumper sticker: "If you're not mad, you're just not paying attention."