Not Following the Pharma Money

Medical research conflicts of interest are in the news lately, thanks to recent congressional hearings by Senator Charles Grassley. But are journalists part of the problem? A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that reporters for print and online media outlets failed 42 percent of the time to mention drug company funding of research cited in their stories. When asked, however, 88 percent of newspaper editors insisted that their publications "always or often" included funding information in their stories -- even though only 3 percent actually had a policy requiring such disclosure. "If you're wondering about professional standards," comments Merrill Goozner, "the Association of Health Care Journalists lists reporting the financing of research and conflicts of interest of researchers as its number one guideline for health care reporters. This latest survey shows that the word has yet to filter down to the majority of reporters out there." The JAMA study also found that 67 percent of news stories mentioned the brand names of drugs rather than their generic names, further reinforcing pharmaceutical industry marketing campaigns. Once again, editors of the offending publications claimed that their reporting practices were better than they actually were, with 77 percent of editors insisting that they always or often reported only the generic names of medications.