If you cover cancer, you might be eager to attend what looks like a great conference: Cancer Issues 2010, the National Press Foundation’s “fourth, all-expenses-paid, educational program on cancer issues.”
From the NPF announcement:
Confirmed speakers include: Dr. Minetta Liu of the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center on the CTC chip; Dr. Carol Taylor from Georgetown University Medical Center on end-of-life issues; veteran reporter Ceci Connolly of the Washington Post on how the new health-care law affects cancer care; Dr. Aziza Shad of Georgetown on palliative care for children with cancer; Jeremy Moore, one of the nation’s premier communicators about science, on reporting from scientific journals; and Dr. Claudine Isaacs, Director of the Lombardi Clinical Breast Cancer Program. The fellowship will include participation in a half-day HPV vaccine workshop at the National Cancer Institute.
That’s a great line-up, and note that includes a Washington Post reporter, Ceci Connolly, along with Jeremy Moore, described as “one of the premier communicators about science.” (Update: Malcolm Ritter alerts me that Connolly has left the Post.)
One could learn a lot at this conference. Last year’s fellows reported that they loved it. And isn’t it nice that it’s “all expenses paid”? On the other hand, only 15 fellowships are available, so if you didn’t compete for one of them earlier, you’re probably too late.
In any case, it’s nice that journalism benefactors found the money to support this thing. Let’s see, who’s funding this?
Woops. The program, NPF tells us with perfect transparency, “is underwritten by Pfizer Inc.”
I found out about this from Gary Schwitzer, who sent me a direct message on Twitter with a link to his post on his Health News Review blog. When I clicked on the link and his post came up, steam poured out of my iMac. Schwitzer, incensed about this arrangement, quotes an Australian journalist and pharma watcher, Ray Moynihan, who says this practice is “like an infectious disease–and maybe we need some sort of treatment.”
Journalists who value their integrity and independence should stay far, far away from this conference. Do you want to write something good about a Pfizer drug some day, and have somebody say, “Well, yeah, you got that cushy Pfizer fellowship! No wonder you love Pfizer!”
If you’re so inclined, send a protest note to the National Press Foundation. Do we have to explain that a Pfizer conference can’t be a balanced, independent conference? Is there a subtle bias toward studies and researchers using Pfizer drugs, and away from those who are studying other companies’ drugs? Can you be certain there isn’t?
And how did Ceci Connolly get involved in this, and why did the Post let her do it? Would they allow a political reporter to speak at a conference sponsored by the Heritage Foundation? (Update noted above: Connolly has left the Post.)
– Paul Raeburn