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Doctors and medical groups who say the public can't understand the newly released Medicare data because it's "out of context" should look at the latest edition of On Science...

Doctors and medical groups who say the public can't understand the newly released Medicare data because it's "out of context" should look at the latest edition of On Science Blogs by Tabitha M. Powledge.

There they will find the context. Plenty of reporters and news organizations are doing a good job of providing the context that Americans need to understand the data.

Here's a case in point, recounted by Powledge:

A Business Day post by Denise Grady and Sheri Fink shows how the data can mislead. One example: a family medicine physician at the University of Michigan Health Services got $7.58 million in 2012 for more than 207,000 patients. Unbelievable, right?

Except, as it turns out, the doc directs a Medicare project...

Governments around the world have spent $9 billion stockpiling a flu drug that's probably no better than aspirin and possibly harmful.

So writes Julia Belluz at Maclean's magazine...

Governments around the world have spent $9 billion stockpiling a flu drug that's probably no better than aspirin and possibly harmful.

So writes Julia Belluz at Maclean's magazine in Canada. The story was prompted by a study and a new release from the Cochrane Collaboration, a non-profit research group that produces broad reviews of the evidence for and against such things as drugs, medical procedures, and healthcare policies.

In a new review, Cochrane reports that "Tamiflu (the antiviral drug oseltamivir) shortens symptoms of influenza by half a day, but there is no good evidence to support claims that it reduces admissions to hospital or complications of influenza." It reports that the...

The news website of MIT's School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences--known around the campus as SHASS--asked me to say something briefly about the Tracker and its mission. Here is how I answered SHASS's...

The news website of MIT's School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences--known around the campus as SHASS--asked me to say something briefly about the Tracker and its mission. Here is how I answered SHASS's "3 Questions" for the Tracker.

This also gave me an occasion to bring up--yet again!--the story of the "immortal" jellyfish.

Enjoy.

-Paul Raeburn

Doctors should not accept money to promote drug companies that fund their research.

Hard to argue with.

There's a legitimate argument for paying researchers to speak, and it doesn't mean they become pharma salespeople.

Also hard to argue with.

The first of these statements comes...

Doctors should not accept money to promote drug companies that fund their research.

Hard to argue with.

There's a legitimate argument for paying researchers to speak, and it doesn't mean they become pharma salespeople.

Also hard to argue with.

The first of these statements comes from Charles Ornstein of ProPublica, one of the authors of "Double Dip: Doctors Paid to Advise, Promote Drug Companies That Fund Their Research," co-published by ProPublica and The Boston Globe. The story argues that Yoav Golan, an infectious-disease specialist at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, is wrong to accept "tens...

Medicare, the government-run health program for older Americans, paid one doctor $20.8 million in 2012.

Of the 825,000 doctors in Medicare's claims database, 344 took in at least $3 million each, for a total of $1.5 billion.

This data has been kept private since 1979--35 years ago--by a court...

Medicare, the government-run health program for older Americans, paid one doctor $20.8 million in 2012.

Of the 825,000 doctors in Medicare's claims database, 344 took in at least $3 million each, for a total of $1.5 billion.

This data has been kept private since 1979--35 years ago--by a court injunction sought by the American Medical Association that barred release of any details of these expenditures of public money. The injunction was vacated by a federal judge last year.

This data from the Medicare claims database was released today by the federal government, which called this a "historic release of data."

The word I'd use is not historic, but outrageous. The first two facts above come from an Associated Press  story by Ricardo Alonso-...

Dude! Two medical stories defy 'rules' in science journalism. One's gnarly to the max, other's a wipeout.
Charlie Petit
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   Here're some rules of the first metacarpal on what a diligent medical reporter ought to do when faced with reports of cure: Glaze one's eyes at a study with just one data point; say whoa! if outside experts are all leery; Think again if it involves amateur treatment under utterly uncontrolled...

   Here're some rules of the first metacarpal on what a diligent medical reporter ought to do when faced with reports of cure: Glaze one's eyes at a study with just one data point; say whoa! if outside experts are all leery; Think again if it involves amateur treatment under utterly uncontrolled circumstances; Ditto if it cannot even describe what it was about the treatment that did the trick - if anything did. Oh, another reason to pause: Even if the so-called treatment worked nobody else is ever likely to try it.

   Such alarm bells ought be taken seriously. That is unless there are extenuating circumstances. Covered with froth? Even better. In the right hands, with the right caveats, almost anything can past muster. What's the self-canceling rule? Rules are made to be broken.

  Here's one that breaks rules and soars.

  • Live Science - Bahar Gholipour:...

On Saturday, Elisabeth Rosenthal at The New York Times began a story with a description of a woman with diabetes who wears a small digital pump at her...

On Saturday, Elisabeth Rosenthal at The New York Times began a story with a description of a woman with diabetes who wears a small digital pump at her waist that delivers insulin to her bloodstream. The insulin keeps her alive; this isn't a high-priced option for a wealthy patient. It's necessary care.

“It looks like a beeper,” the woman told Rosenthal. “It’s made of plastic and runs on triple-A batteries, but it’s the most expensive thing I own, aside from my house.” A new model, Rosenthal reported, can cost tens of thousands of dollars. And the pump and related supplies will cost the woman $5,000 this year, even with good health insurance. That includes insulin that once "cost a few dollars" and "now often sells for more than $200 a vial, meaning some...

Philip J. Hilts, the director of the Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT and a former science reporter for The New York Times and The Washington Post, has announced that...

Philip J. Hilts, the director of the Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT and a former science reporter for The New York Times and The Washington Post, has announced that he will retire at the end of June.

Hilts, who took over the program in 2008, expanded its international reach and added training in video and audio storytelling. And under his leadership, the number of applicants for the year-long Knight Science Journalism fellowships  for science reporters grew from about 80 per year to about 150 per year.

"The Knight Program has been a tremendous asset to MIT, and a powerful resource for our understanding of the relationship between science and technology and the public," said Deborah Fitzgerald, the Kenan Sahin Dean at the MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. "I am...

Tabitha M. Powledge at On Science Blogs reviews the week's climate coverage (including some of our remarks here).

And she also notes an event that...

Tabitha M. Powledge at On Science Blogs reviews the week's climate coverage (including some of our remarks here).

And she also notes an event that I somehow missed: Jane Goodall's 80th birthday. I met Goodall once, at a dinner in New York, and she is not only smart, charming, and engaging, but she has some kind of aura about her. I know, I know: talk of "auras" makes me sound like some kind of new-age...well, makes me sound new-age. Instead of "aura," let's say charisma. Whatever it is, it makes you want to speak softly when you're around her, and listen carefully to everything she says.

She was probably 70 when I met her. I thought she was cool.

Powledge also collects comments on the discovery of the bones of Richard III, which gives me a rare opportunity to quote some...

There are only two things you need to know about medicines and ADHD:

Some kids get medicine when they shouldn't. And some kids don't get medicine when they should.

The first of those is reported over and over and over again. The second is almost never mentioned.

The New York...

There are only two things you need to know about medicines and ADHD:

Some kids get medicine when they shouldn't. And some kids don't get medicine when they should.

The first of those is reported over and over and over again. The second is almost never mentioned.

The New York Times has run a series of stories, mostly on the front page, about the overuse of ADHD medications. You will rarely find it mention--even in passing--the tragedy of children with ADHD who are not getting treatment that would help them.

If it sounds as though I'm taking sides, it's only to fight back against the widespread prejudice among journalists that the problem with drugs and ADHD is solely a problem of overmedication. I don't know how to diagnose ADHD, I don't know what medicines to use to treat it, and I'm not advocating more use of medication...

[4/11/14: Updates with addition of Cyranoski's story on Feb. 17th, ahead of the others mentioned here.]

Everybody had the story this week: Haruko Obokata, who claimed to create stem cells by stressing embryonic-like cells, has been accused of scientific misconduct.

"The judgement is...

[4/11/14: Updates with addition of Cyranoski's story on Feb. 17th, ahead of the others mentioned here.]

Everybody had the story this week: Haruko Obokata, who claimed to create stem cells by stressing embryonic-like cells, has been accused of scientific misconduct.

"The judgement is the latest twist — but not the final word — in the bizarre story of stimulus-triggered activation of pluripotency (STAP), a method that researchers at the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology (CDB) in Kobe, Japan, still say is able to turn ordinary mature mouse cells into cells that share embryonic stem cells' capacity to turn into all of the body’s cells," wrote David Cyranoski at Nature, just one of many stories that reported the disturbing development. This was a particularly interesting one, however, because...

I'm apparently not the only one to take a shot at Nate Silver's new news site. He's taking hits from all over.

Tabitha M. Powledge at On Science Blogs...

I'm apparently not the only one to take a shot at Nate Silver's new news site. He's taking hits from all over.

Tabitha M. Powledge at On Science Blogs wraps up much of the coverage--all of it negative, as far as I can tell. The principal line of attack is not a subtle one: Silver's new data journalism site lacks, uh, how should I put this...

Data.

Powledge quotes various commentators who have said that, and she also raises questions about some of the people Silver has chosen to cover science. Roger Pielke, Jr. and Emily Oster are idiosyncratic choices, to say the least.

Powledge thinks Silver will get better, because it always takes time for startups to find their footing.

...

E-cigarettes have largely escaped coverage, especially coverage by science and health reporters.

And when they do get covered, the most important thing about them is rarely explored in depth--whether they help smokers quit, or whether they encourage non-smokers to start.

Last December, Joe...

E-cigarettes have largely escaped coverage, especially coverage by science and health reporters.

And when they do get covered, the most important thing about them is rarely explored in depth--whether they help smokers quit, or whether they encourage non-smokers to start.

Last December, Joe Nocera, an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times, wrote a piece extolling e-cigarettes. He describes them as "an innovative device that can help people wean themselves" from smoking. "It has the same look and feel as the lethal product...but the ingredients that kill...

The email began this way:

Rotary International (www.rotary.org) can cover travel costs for a writer who secures an assignment with a top-tier U.S./global media outlet to write about its global humanitarian work.  Example: ...

The email began this way:

Rotary International (www.rotary.org) can cover travel costs for a writer who secures an assignment with a top-tier U.S./global media outlet to write about its global humanitarian work.  Example:  Travel with Oregon Rotarian Nancy Hughes and her team to visit a stove factory they help to establish near Antigua, Guatemala between June 18–27.

They tell me Guatemala is lovely in June...

The offer is apparently being tendered by the public relations firm GolinHarris on behalf of Rotary. The email goes on to explain why the stove project is important, the number of lives that can be saved by better stoves, and so forth.

I'm all for it. Who's against saving lives?

What I'm not for is to have sources pay for coverage. A reporter's obligation is to present what he or she learns to readers, viewers, or listeners...

Reading a San Francisco Chronicle story about how a mother cured her daughter's autism by removing MSG from her diet, I wanted to shout, "There is no science to back up the...

Reading a San Francisco Chronicle story about how a mother cured her daughter's autism by removing MSG from her diet, I wanted to shout, "There is no science to back up the mother's claims!"

But the article's author, Stacy Finz, had scooped me. "There is no science to back up many of her claims," Finz wrote. 

Knowing that, she wrote the story anyway--a story that will surely lead many other parents to try the same unproven diet. Why write it if there is no science to back this up, and when we know that many readers will slip past the caveats to seize the hope?

Finz actually answered that question:

While there is no science to back up many of her claims, Reid [Katherine Reid, the mother] said the most convincing evidence to her is the results she saw in her...