Friday, June 24, 2011

US to New Zealand: "And now we will ruin your healthcare system"

"We really don't want to become embroiled in a health system that in any way resembles what happens in the United States," says a recent editorial in the New Zealand newspaper, The Marlborough Express.  "Nor do we want to be as medicated as Americans."  So why are Americans trying to export their dysfunctional healthcare system to New Zealand?

The answer: because that's what the pharmaceutical industry wants.  For decades New Zealand has kept drug prices far below the exorbitant levels that Americans are used to paying.  Pharmac, the New Zealand drug-buying agency, decides which drugs it will cover and negotiates with pharmaceutical companies for a reasonable price.  But a group of 26 US Senators has decided that this must change, and has written a letter to this effect to President Obama.  As Radio New Zealand reports, the Senators have "received $6.5 million in donations from the pharmaceutical industry over the past five years."

"We would not tell the United States how to run Disneyland," the Marlborough Express points out.  So why is the United States telling New Zealand how to run its healthcare system?

Read the full story at Placebo Effect, by Jim Edwards.

Medical Humanities Conference at Western Michigan University

Call for Abstracts
Western Michigan University Medical Humanities Conference
September 29-30, 2011; Kalamazoo, Michigan

Proposals are due by July 15, 2011.

More information here.

Supreme Court sides with pharma

The US Supreme Court has ruled that drug companies can collect the prescribing data of doctors without their consent and use it to market drugs to them.  Read about it here.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

I'm okay, you're a psychopath

Paul Bloom on psychopaths, in the NY Times Book Review.

Why is the Obama administration threatening investigative journalists?

From Salon:

"The Obama DOJ's effort to force New York Times investigative journalist Jim Risen to testify in a whistleblower prosecution and reveal his source is really remarkable and revealing in several ways; it should be receiving much more attention than it is.  On its own, the whistleblower prosecution and accompanying targeting of Risen are pernicious, but more importantly, it underscores the menacing attempt by the Obama administration -- as Risen yesterday pointed out -- to threaten and intimidate whistleblowers, journalists and activists who meaningfully challenge what the government does in secret."

Read it here.

The Führer as pitchman

Jim Edwards displays ten advertising campaigns using Hitler to sell consumer products.  See them here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Subject to approval: An investigation into clinical drug trials abroad

Watch the full episode. See more Need To Know.

The sad failure of Medtronic-funded orthopedists

"This is a sad failure of our profession," says Dr.Sohail Mirza, a professor of orthopedics at Dartmouth Medical School. "It's the Finance Committee doing public health work."  Read about the latest chapter in the Medtronic Infuse scandal in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Introducing #MuckReads

A new initiative from Pro Publica:

"Starting today, you and other ProPublica readers can share essential watchdog reporting with our reporters and readers using our newest feature, #MuckReads. #MuckReads will curate the day's essential accountability stories, discovered and shared by our reporters and editors, and readers like you—stories about the abuse of prisoners, the education levels of our country's legislators and the laundering of public funds. Our mission is to do journalism that has real-world impact, and we're especially keen to find and promote work from others that has the same impetus."

Read about it here.

Protess case in the New York Times

"For the last two years, David Protess, a renowned journalist and professor who spent three decades fighting to prove the innocence of others, has been locked in a battle to do the same for himself. It hasn’t gone as well."

Read the rest of the story here.

Call for Proposals: Atrium


ATRIUM ISSUE 10:  The theme is ³GRAPHIC²


Think creatively about broad interpretations of the theme. The adjective
'graphic' describes that which is represented in such a way that it is
easily visualized. For example, we present information in graphs so that a
reader can see, rather than have to calculate, data relationships. 'Graphic'
can refer to representations of what we usually keep hidden from view, to
images that are uncommonly or shockingly vivid, especially in ways that
concern bodies. And at its most literal, the 'graphic' is what is drawn, in
pictures, rather than written, in words. What does graphic representation
have to do with illness or health care?

Short proposals must be submitted by August 1st, 2011. They will be
evaluated, and complete articles invited, by mid-August. Finished drafts
will be due by September 15th, 2011.

Please read the ATRIUM submission guidelines at

Call for papers: No Country for Old Men (or Women)

The University of Otago Bioethics Centre is pleased to announce the 2012 New Zealand Bioethics Conference to be held at Salmond College, Dunedin, New Zealand 27-29 January 2012.

The theme this year is:

‘No Country for Old Men (or Women):  Bioethical issues relating to increasing pressures on the health care system.

Topics include: Diseases of lifestyle (e.g. obesity)
An ageing population
Changing demographics
Equity and distributive justice
New technologies (e.g. ART, stem cells)
Papers on other topics will be considered.
Details of the Call for Papers (by 14 October 2011) are available on the Conference Website.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Goodbye, Lake Calhoun. Hello, Lake James Brown.

There's a move afoot in Minneapolis to rename Lake Calhoun, which was named for John C. Calhoun, the former South Carolina senator, vice president, and defender of slavery in the 19th century.  John Winters, a retired software writer who is leading the charge, wants the lake renamed for Hubert Humphrey, the former Minnesota senator and vice-president, who was an advocate of civil rights.

Fair enough. But why pick Humphrey?  He already has a sports stadium, an airport terminal and a school of public affairs.  And why pick on South Carolina, which has already taken such a (self-inflicted) beating in the press?  Much better simply to name the lake after another great South Carolinian.  We recommend James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, the hardest working man in show business, and a native of Barnwell, South Carolina.  Make it funky.

Protess retiring

David Protess, the embattled director of the Medill Innocence Project at Northwestern University, is retiring.  Read about it here.

Clinical trial or marketing tool?

Pfizer is testing Detrol LA against placebo -- again.  Only this time, it's letting subjects use smartphones and computers instead of coming to the clinic.  Is the "clinical trial in a box" a genuine trial, or is it a marketing tool?  Read about it on Pharmalot.

Fear and Loathing in Maternity Care

Watch the inaugural address of Ray De Vries as he is inducted as an extraordinary professor of midwifery science at Maastricht University in the Netherlands.  The video can be seen here.

When drug companies hide the price of new drugs

When Vertex Pharmaceuticals announced the approval of its hepatitis C drug, Incivek, its press release touted the generosity of the company in helping customers with their insurance co-payments. But it did not mention the $49,000 price tag of the drug.

Read how drug companies hide the price of new drugs in the NY Times.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Dean of medicine busted for plagiarism

The Dean of Medicine at the University of Alberta, Philip Baker, delivered a stirring graduation speech to the medical school class of 2011 on Friday, complete with moving personal anecdotes about his wife and children.  There was only one problem, according to the CBC: he apparently lifted the speech word for word from a similar speech by surgeon and New Yorker staff writer Atul Gawande.  Gawande's speech, which was delivered at Stanford University's 2010 medical school convocation, was later published on-line by the New Yorker.

University of Alberta medical students outed Baker when they found the speech online. In a statement on behalf of the students, class president Brittany Barber wrote,  "People should know that we will not stand for this academic dishonesty, and our deepest wish is that this incident does not reflect poorly on the integrity of our class, the medical school and, ultimately, the university."

Read about it at CBC News.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Hi kids, let's play Body Broker

Courtesy of the New York Post.

That’s just the ketchup talking.

HUMAN RESOURCES Good morning, and thank you for participating in this fully confidential exit interview. Just to begin, how many years have you been with the company?
RONALD MCDONALD (stares blankly at the wall, not seeming to hear)
H.R. Er ... Mr. McDonald?
RONALD ( singing the Big Mac song softly, like a hymn) ... two all-beef patties ... special sauce, lettuce, cheese ... (Distraught, he retrieves three single-serving packets of ketchup from his jumpsuit and squeezes them directly into his mouth.)
H.R. I realize this must be difficult for you. It’s quite normal for employees in your position to experience a period of grief.
RONALD Forty-eight years ... forty-eight years... (kneading his forehead) How could I have been so stupid! Why didn’t I put away more? Or even a little! I don’t even have a résumé! (suddenly engaged) Hey, maybe there’s something else I could do! Maybe in payroll or Web-development — even something on the political side? I know politicians! I once went on a golf trip with Steny Hoyer. (pulls out cellphone) Hold on, I think he’s still in my contacts —

Read the rest of the exit interview in the Times.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

University of Minnesota spokesman moving to Pfizer

Dan Wolter, who has directed public relations for the University of Minnesota for the past six years, is moving to a similar position at Pfizer, according to the Minnesota Daily.  Pfizer is a three-time felon which recently paid the largest criminal fine in American history. 

Read the Daily story here.

Think again before you leave that voice message

"Jesus spent three days in Hell. I could only handle one."

Jack Shafer has collected a spectacular array of kiss-off notes from angry journalists on their way out the door.  Read them on  Part 1 is here, and Part 2 is here.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

An investigative reporter's dream job

The following job ad was posted by Matt Doig of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune (at least according to Mother Jones, which reprinted it here.


We want to add some talent to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune investigative team. Every serious candidate should have a proven track record of conceiving, reporting and writing stellar investigative pieces that provoke change. However, our ideal candidate has also cursed out an editor, had spokespeople hang up on them in anger and threatened to resign at least once because some fool wanted to screw around with their perfect lede.

We do a mix of quick hit investigative work when events call for it and mini-projects that might run for a few days. But every year we like to put together a project way too ambitious for a paper our size because we dream that one day Walt Bogdanich will have to say: “I can’t believe the Sarasota Whatever-Tribune cost me my 20th Pulitzer.” As many of you already know, those kinds of projects can be hellish, soul-sucking, doubt-inducing affairs. But if you’re the type of sicko who likes holing up in a tiny, closed office with reporters of questionable hygiene to build databases from scratch by hand-entering thousands of pages of documents to take on powerful people and institutions that wish you were dead, all for the glorious reward of having readers pick up the paper and glance at your potential prize-winning epic as they flip their way to the Jumble… well, if that sounds like journalism Heaven, then you’re our kind of sicko.

For those unaware of Florida’s reputation, it’s arguably the best news state in the country and not just because of the great public records laws. We have all kinds of corruption, violence and scumbaggery. The 9/11 terrorists trained here. Bush read My Pet Goat here. Our elections are colossal clusterfucks. Our new governor once ran a health care company that got hit with a record fine because of rampant Medicare fraud. We have hurricanes, wildfires, tar balls, bedbugs, diseased citrus trees and an entire town overrun by giant roaches (only one of those things is made up). And we have Disney World and beaches, so bring the whole family.

Send questions, or a resume/cover letter/links to clips to my email address below. If you already have your dream job, please pass this along to someone whose skills you covet. Thanks.

Matthew Doig
Sarasota Herald-Tribune
1741 Main St.
Sarasota FL, 34236
(941) 361-4903

Turning your patients into your employees

The patient is desperately ill.  She needs treatment right away.  But you need research subjects for your clinical trial, and she wants proven therapy.  What's a clinical investigator to do?

The answer is simple: pay her to sign up for the trial.  You get a research subject; she gets a paycheck; and if the experimental treatment doesn't work, well, you warned her about that in the consent form.  That's the win-win solution that is being tossed around by two University of Chicago professors, and ethicists are taking it seriously.  Read about it in Nature.

Monday, June 6, 2011

This is your brain on David Brooks

"This is your brain on Brooks: an organ hard-wired to reduce moral decisions to consumer choices."  So writes the brilliant and frequently hilarious Gary Greenberg about The Social Animal, by David Brooks.  "A government devoted to our happiness is a terrifying prospect," he writes.  "I'd settle for a politics, and a political columnist, committed to preventing misery."

Read it in The Nation.

No good deed goes unpunished

In case you missed it this weekend on This American Life: listen to this astonishing story of two Texas nurses who below the whistle on a corrupt, incompetent doctor and soon found themselves under arrest.  Here is the description from the TAL website:

 "In a small west Texas town called Kermit, two nurses were accused of harassment after they complained to the medical board that a doctor was putting patients in danger. The nurses were fired and then arrested, facing ten years in prison. Reporter Saul Elbein found that a group of powerful men in Kermit went to extreme and sometimes ridiculous lengths to try to bring down these nurses. Saul wrote a version of this story for the Texas Observer."

Listen to it here. Or read it in the Texas Observer.

Not that Merck, it's the other Merck

A correction to an earlier posting is in order.  The Merck that has just hired a new bioethics panel is not the Merck associated with the Vioxx scandal.  The Merck that has hired a new bioethics panel is Merck KGaA, which is associated with the Rebif scandal.  Merck and Merck KGaA split before World War I.  Apologies for the error.

The abuse of disabled children in New York

For $1.4 million a year, a healthcare institution in New York will have a high school dropout beat and asphyxiate a disabled child. The agonizing, shameful story is reported by Danny Hakim in The New York Times.

How to deal drugs

++ Click to Enlarge Image ++
Exposed! The Dirty Little Tricks Of Drug Companies  | Infographic |
A Drug

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Why you can't trust medical journals anymore

Harriet Washington explains how pharmaceutical companies use medical journals to market their drugs.  Read her article in The American Scholar.

Blood farmers, baby-sellers and kidney peddlers

The "red market" of Scott Carney's lucid and alarming book refers to the various medical activities through which the human body can generate a profit: surrogate motherhood, organ transplantation, drug testing, baby selling and blood farming, to mention just a few items on Mr. Carney's disturbing list. The buyers of red-market goods are usually well-to-do Westerners, while the sellers tend to come from developing countries. A surprisingly large number of the sellers are women, and many appear to be forced into the business. Middlemen, beyond taking large profits, encourage the trade by assuring buyers that the transaction is conducted ethically. The dramatic medical benefits sanction what would otherwise be seen as exploitation. "The crimes are covered up," Mr. Carney writes, "in a veil of altruistic ideals."

Read more in the WSJ.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Anarchist Walking Tour in Philadelphia -- Focus on Medicine & Science

Anarchist Walking Tour --Focus on Medicine & Science
Sunday, June 12, 2011
1 PM until 3 PM
Begins at Wooden Shoe Books, 704 South Street, Philadelphia PA

Between the 1890s and the 1920s, Philadelphia Anarchists counted many physicians, pharmacists, and other science professionals among their members. Local historian Robert Helms will lead his listeners along the streets of Society Hill and tell of distinguished doctors leaping into action to save a comrade's life, trying to obtain humane treatment for a crazed fellow traveler, establishing a hospital and pharmacies as well, treating venereal diseases and providing abortions. Learn of these matters from the one who discovered them with his own research.

A FREE, Public Event. The guide will pass the hat, inviting small donations.

Friday, June 3, 2011

South Carolina judge nails Johnson and Johnson

Johnson and Johnson must pay more than $327 million in penalties for deceptively marketing the antipsychotic drug Risperdal, a South Carolina judge has ruled.  Read more here.