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About AHCJ: General News

Bay Area chapter examines conflicts of interest Date: 05/14/07

Thirty Bay Area AHCJ members and health journalists gathered in The London Wine bar in San Francisco on May 8, 2007, to hear a timely, important, and revealing report about a rampant problem: conflict of interest and bias in the health/drug industry.

The panelists were Lisa Bero, Ph.D., a professor of health policy and clinical pharmacy at University of California at San Francisco who researches conflict-of-interest and industry influence on research and clinical practice; Rob Waters, a Bloomberg News health reporter who investigates psychiatric drugs and mental health issues; and moderator Laurie Udesky, an independent health reporter on health and public policy for The Lancet and other publications.

The panelists provided evidence and examples of bias that journalists need to be aware of, including pharmaceutical-funded studies and research, so-called "unrestricted" education grants, compromised clinical trial set-ups, selective and/or incomplete publication of clinical trial results and inappropriately compensated investigators and researchers who may influence any or all of the above.

The panelists also gave some practical tips to help reporters spot bias, dig for confirmation, and ask the right questions to determine where conflict of interest problems exist, and what to do about them when they arise.

The discussion was followed by several questions from the audience. We expect to provide a podcast and a transcript of the event as soon as possible.

The chapter is now organizing future events, including one in the South Bay (Silicon Valley/San Jose area).

Interested in attending a Bay Area AHCJ event? Contact Colleen Paretty at cparetty@pobox.com.

Panelists' bios:
Lisa Bero, Ph.D., is a professor of health policy and clinical pharmacy at University of California at San Francisco. She researches conflict-of-interest and industry influence on research and clinical practice. She is also the co-director of the U.S.Cochrane Center at the University of California at San Francisco. Among her investigations, she and her colleagues have documented the practice by drug companies of sponsoring clinical trials with built-in design flaws that skew findings in order to show favorable results.

Rob Waters is a health reporter for Bloomberg News. He reports on psychiatric drugs and mental health, among other topics. Before joining Bloomberg in Jan. 2006, he covered health, mental health, and child and family issues for Mother Jones, Health, Parenting,San Francisco magazine, and many other publications.His investigative report in Mother Jones, "Medicating Aliah," showed how pharmaceutical industry influence over state officials in Texas and other states fueled the prescribing of anti-psychotic medications to children. It won the 2006 Casey Award for best magazine journalism.

Laurie Udesky is an independent health reporter whose articles on health and public policy have appeared in The Lancet, Salon.com, San Francisco Chronicle magazine, among other news outlets and she has won national and regional awards for her work. She recently reported on the HPV vaccine controversy for The Lancet.