Why Almost Everything You Hear About Medicine is Wrong (Newsweek)

Update 1/29: in a comment, Gilles Frydman pointed out that Newsweek’s Sharon Begley wrote this article almost two months before the New Yorker piece appeared – and the editors held the article, apparently due to pressure from a pharma advertiser whose product is cited in the article. Here’s a substantially revised version of this post.

Newsweek has picked up the tune The New York Observer says Newsweek’s editors delayed its publication until now, but Newsweek’s Sharon Begley wrote an important article two months ago, Why Almost Everything You Hear About Medicine is Wrong, about the same issues we too have been discussing about the scientific method.

How annoying is it that this important subject was held up, apparently for advertising reasons? Could this article’s history be an example of the title, “Why almost everything you hear about medicine is wrong”?

On a related note, see the ongoing comments on our Tips for Understanding Studies (Health News Review).

By the way, Newsweek elected not to cite the great New Yorker essay that got us going here. (The New Yorker piece is far deeper than Newsweek‘s.)


Posted in: research issues | shared decision making | understanding statistics




8 Responses to “Why Almost Everything You Hear About Medicine is Wrong (Newsweek)”

  1. Dave,
    Do you mean the Atlantic article by David H. Freedman? Here’s the link to our own discussion about it here on e-patients.net: http://e-patients.net/archives/2010/10/atlantic-lies-damned-lies-and-medical-science.html.

  2. Dave,

    I believe you have a false impression about the chronology of events. You are not giving Sharon Begley the credit she deserves, considering she is one of the great science writers in the US. She wrote the article either before or right at the time the New Yorker article was published. For sure she wrote it before you were made aware of Lehrer’s article. Read more about this story here. That is, IMO, a bigger story.

    Now that you know, the fact that these 2 articles were supposed to appear during the same time frame only reinforces the simple fact that we must take charge of our care by becoming educated about the medical conditions that concern us, individually. No one else can do it as well. I am the CEO of my own body.

    • Wow, what a story, Gilles! So Begley wrote this almost two months ago, and Newsweek refused to run it – apparently at the request of a pharma advertiser? That’s nasty.

      I’ll edit the lead of this post. Thanks.

      All, if you haven’t read the Health News Review post about this, please do.

      Meanwhile, I wonder if in reality there would be any interaction at all between an ad and a counteracting article. Does it make any difference if they’re in the same issue? I sure don’t like the idea, though, of science and health editors being told what they can and can’t run. It puts way too much health power in the hands of commercial interests.

      (Statins were the first thing I ever wrote about, regarding evidence-based medicine, over on my own blog, two years ago. Interestingly, I got the tip from a book written by a venture capitalist, who easily saw through the overblown numbers the marketers were promoting.)

      • I think the refusal to publish the article in time is a VERY BIG story. I also think that the Pharma companies involved would never be involved in this from 10,000 miles away. I doubt we’ll ever have access to the real cause for delaying the publication. Newsweek has been undergoing a painful transition for the last transition and was acquired last August for $1! See here.

    • Gilles, as I read more (including the Observer piece that HNR cited), I pretty much rewrote the post. Thanks.

  3. Dave,
    Thanks for this post and Gilles, for the Observer story on the delay of Sharon’s excellent Newsweek article.

    That so many published reports are incorrect points to the need for doctors (and patients) to be well-educated in science and math, so they can critically evaluate the medical literature and not just accept “results” at face value. Erroneous findings underlie a problem with evidence-based medicine (which I support in principle), because so much of data by which we inform decisions turn out not to be true.

    I wrote a piece on the Decline Effect in Medical Lessons – http://bit.ly/h2nMSi

  4. […] Why Almost Everything You Hear About Medicine is Wrong (about a Newsweek […]

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