Tag Archives: oransky

New AHCJ board seated for 2012-13

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates social media efforts of AHCJ and assists with the editing and production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

Scott Hensley, NPR’s Shots blog writer and editor, joins five incumbents in being seated on the Association of Health Care Journalists’ 2012-13 board of directors.

Scott Hensley
Scott Hensley

Incumbents starting a new two-year term include AHCJ Secretary Julie Appleby, Kaiser Health News; AHCJ Treasurer Ivan Oransky, M.D., Reuters Health; Phil Galewitz, Kaiser Health News; Andy Miller, Georgia Health News; and Irene Wielawski, independent journalist. Immediate Past President Trudy Lieberman, a longtime board member and contributing editor for Columbia Journalism Review, chose not to run for re-election.

Hensley has served on AHCJ’s membership committee since 2009 and helped refine its membership rules. Longtime Covering Health readers will remember that Hensley contributed to this blog for several months in 2009.

Before joining NPR in the summer of 2009, he was the founding editor of The Wall Street Journal‘s Health Blog after several years of print reporting for the Journal and previously a reporter at Modern Healthcare and American Banker.

The newly seated board members join those elected last year for two-year terms: AHCJ President Charles Ornstein, ProPublica; Vice President Karl Stark, The Philadelphia Inquirer; Felice Freyer, The Providence Journal; Gideon Gil, The Boston Globe; Carla K. Johnson, The Associated Press; and Maryn McKenna, independent journalist.

The Association of Health Care Journalists is an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing public understanding of health care issues. Its mission is to improve the quality, accuracy and visibility of health care reporting, writing and editing. AHCJ is housed at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Where health and journalism education meet

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism, and he has blogged for Covering Health ever since.

Writing for U.S. News and World Report, Menachem Wecker examines the proliferation of health-focused programs at journalism schools across the country, many of which are affiliated with medical schools and/or medical institutions, and how they may or may not benefit both journalists and health professionals.

This recent influx of programs has raised questions from journalists and doctors about the degree to which the collaborations benefit medical and journalism students. Some say that M.D.’s can help journalists better understand the health beat, while others prescribe a “healthy ignorance,” rather than medical school credentials, to reporters. Others say that aspiring physicians can improve their bedside interactions with and empathy for patients by studying journalism.

Wecker writes that while, according to AHCJ treasurer and Reuters Health executive editor Ivan Oransky, M.D., a medical degree appears to have become almost a requirement for broadcast health journalists, there are big-picture views and tools of the trade that those with an exclusively medical education may struggle with. Here, Wecker quotes former AHCJ board member Andrew Holtz, M.P.H.:

“I often compare asking a doctor about health policy to asking an auto mechanic about transportation policy. Maybe they have something useful to say, but it is generally not from what they learned in their training program,” he says.

Peter Fiske, author of the recent article “Unleash Your Inner Dummy” on the website of the journal Nature, says a reporter with less health expertise may find it easier to connect with readers despite the increasing complexity of the medical field.

And, given the difficulty of explaining health to a lay audience, the exchange goes both ways, Wecker writes. Several of his sources, journalists and medical professionals alike, suggested that it might not hurt physicians to improve their communication skills and media savvy.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this post incorrectly attributed Fiske’s comments to Holtz. We apologize for the error.

Journalist compares U.K. science writers, American health reporters

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism, and he has blogged for Covering Health ever since.

When the Association of British Science Writers announced the nominees for their 2011 Science Writers’ Awards, Guardian science blogger Martin Robbins noted a familiar pattern.

Of the 12 places on the shortlists for science writing, 6 went to New Scientist, 1 each to Nature and the BMJ, and 1 each to the Guardian and the Independent The final two places went to a freelancer and the website SciDev.Net. That means that newspapers combined took just two spots, while specialist science publications took eight. Meanwhile, the TV shortlist was occupied by BBC 3, BBC 4, and BBC 2, while the radio shortlist featured BBC Radio 4, BBC Radio 4 again, and, yes, BBC Radio 4.

A lists of nominees from earlier in the decade reveals a similar pattern of “Near-dominance of broadcast science by the BBC, while specialist publications competing with a dwindling group of broadsheet newspapers for the literary prizes,” Robbins writes. To better understand this apparent one-sidedness, Robbins talked to ABSW chair Connie St. Louis, who suggested that U.K. newspapers have succumbed to a form of churnalism and “communication,” because they simply don’t have the resources for in-depth work like that which occurs at the BBC or the specialty outlets. Here’s St. Louis:

I have this thesis which is… science journalists have forgotten how to be journalists. They’re actually science communicators, and they go into the job and… the job was to tell you what science was doing and help you understand science, and I think that’s an incredibly important function, but don’t call yourself a science journalist if that’s what you’re doing, call yourself a science blogger, call yourself a science communicator, but if you’re going to call yourself a journalist then behave like a journalist, dig for stories, ask questions of science, ask questions of scientists, look at numbers, look at figures, and do what journalism does.

St. Louis then goes on to compare U.K. science journalism (somewhat unfavorably) to the relatively higher level of scrutiny faced by American health journalists, scrutiny brought about thanks in part to a few key thought leaders.

We’re always explaining new cures, explaining new science, but where are the guys who are really digging down, where are our Ivan Oranskys, where are our Gary Schweitzers [sic], we don’t have them. It’s all very much “here’s a new cancer drug”, and I’m not knocking that, it’s really important, but actually we’re in a very deficit model of journalism at the moment.

Related

Adding context to embargo-driven journalism

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism, and he has blogged for Covering Health ever since.

Over at the Nieman Journalism Lab, Matthew Battles latches onto John Rennie’s column about the future of science journalism, then talks to Ed Yong and AHCJ’s own treasurer, Ivan Oransky, M.D., about embargoes, timelines and cutting through the noise.

Battles focuses on the effort to pursue context in a profession that is so often at the mercy of academic journals. After all, as he writes in his introduction, “The events that science journalists publish about most frequently are themselves acts of publishing: the appearance of research papers in peer-reviewed journals.” The rest of his piece will serve as a handy primer for anyone looking to understand why that particular state of affairs is so pervasive and persistent.

For AHCJ members who want to know more about responsibly covering studies and how to recognize and report the problems, limitations and backstory of a study, as well as publication biases in medical journals, be sure to see “Covering Medical Research.”

Blogger quits U.S. News, citing sponsored links

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism, and he has blogged for Covering Health ever since.

Critical questions about online sponsored content, and the relationship between editorial control and hyperlinking, continue to be raised. The firewall between advertising and editorial has been eroding in some publications, and former Baltimore Sun health reporter Mary Knudson (bio) is the latest in a long line of bloggers who have drawn their own lines in the sand.

Knudson was invited to blog about heart health for U.S. News on the heels of her most recent book, “Living Well With Heart Failure, the Misnamed, Misunderstood Condition.” She quit before her first post was published. Now, she explains why.

On the PLoS Speakeasy Science blog, the veteran author and Johns Hopkins medical writing professor shares how her initial enthusiasm quickly waned when she noticed that her first post had been studded with sponsored hyperlinks.

She says the magazine informed her the sponsorships were not negotiable. The rabbit hole goes deeper (see Knudson’s post for more) but the end result was both unfortunate and predictable:

So, I said no to U.S. News & World Report because I could not accept the conditions they would force upon me as a blogger. I am a journalist. I will not fall in line and become a U.S. News Stepford wife.

I am currently setting up an independent blog HeartSense that will seek to find the truth as best I can about issues involving the heart and patient involvement and I will only create links to places I think will bring more information to readers about the topic I’m writing about. No ads will pop up at my readers.

The magazine chalks it up to experimentation.

“Like all internet publishers we are continually experimenting with different kinds of content and advertising,” U.S. News editor Brian Kelly said via e-mail. “Some work and some don’t. Healthline Navigator is a new feature that we are evaluating.”

Healthline Navigator is, of course, the product which autolinked Knudson’s post.

Where will it end? Knudson, for her part, calls for an independent national network. She has approached AHCJ about creating a national network for health bloggers.

AHCJ board member Ivan Oransky says AHCJ has been studying the possibility.

“We’ve watched with interest the proliferation of science blogging networks, and we appreciate Mary’s suggestion, which was on the minds of some at AHCJ,” Oransky says. “These networks are adding and amplifying important voices. We’d love comments from members, and others, with experience creating blogging networks, or contributing to one, as we work to figure out if this is something it makes sense for the association to take on.”

Non-disclosure agreements and embargoes converge

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism, and he has blogged for Covering Health ever since.

Some people unwind by watching birds. Or bays. Ivan Oransky, M.D., executive editor of Reuters Health and AHCJ’s treasurer, is different. He watches embargoes (And retractions). And it’s in his capacity as editor of the Embargo Watch blog that Oransky reports on how the press roll-out of the Wal-Mart/Humana drug plan demonstrates a convergence between non-disclosure agreements and embargoes.

Oransky obtained the text of the non-disclosure agreement, which appears to be a standard embargo agreement, with one exception. Reporters are banned from contacting any sources about the story until Oct. 1, though a seemingly contradictory provision allows them to approach sources who have agreed to the agreement — a more common embargo-style approach. Oransky is working his way through the public relations chain now, trying to find out why a non-disclosure agreement was used in place of an embargo, and why the conflicting provisions were inserted. He’ll update the post as soon as he finds out.

Until then, we’ll go with Oransky’s guess that the odd agreement was a careful end-run around regulators.

Until I get more clarification, I’ll guess that Humana decided to do this for fear of reprisals from CMS if CMS had any reason to think they were marketing the plan before today.

While the agreement seemed to have delayed most coverage for a few hours, at least, the story still got a substantial amount of attention, especially in the business press.

Policy lets many see study but restricts reporting

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates social media efforts of AHCJ and assists with the editing and production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

On his new blog, Embargo Watch, Ivan Oransky, M.D., writes about an embargo policy that restricts journalists from writing about papers even when they are widely available to doctors, medical schools and hospitals.

Oransky, who is treasurer of AHCJ’s board and executive editor of Reuters Health, has written about embargoes before for Covering Health and TheScientist.com, questioning whether embargoes are serving the public, the scientific journals or journalists.

In this case, The American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine placed an embargo on a study it made available “through HighWire, a Stanford University service that many publishers use to make electronic versions of their journals available.”

This was a new one for me. Embargoed papers not being available to anyone but the press, sure. But available to many doctors — and anyone doctors showed them to — for two weeks before we could write about them?

Oransky discussed the policy with the director of communications and marketing at the American Thoracic Society, which publishes AJRCCM, and reports on the response from him as well as from other public relations professionals and reporters.

One particularly interesting comment points out that investors are likely seeing studies release on HighWire, perhaps giving some an unfair advantage financially.

Oransky: Find sources with outside perspective

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism, and he has blogged for Covering Health ever since.

AHCJ Treasurer Ivan Oransky, M.D., who’s also the executive editor of Reuters Health and a teacher at NYU, stopped by Ed Yong’s “Not Exactly Rocket Science” blog to offer his tips for finding sources when reporting on studies.ivan-oransky

Oransky writes that the key is to focus on a source that provides outside perspective, not just on a source that provides an opposing viewpoint. Sometimes, Oransky says, that outside perspective will simply reinforce what the study’s authors have said. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

He also gives practical directions for finding knowledgeable sources, with specific suggestions both for reporters on deadline and for those who have the luxury of reporting things out a little.

Oransky: Medical study embargoes serve whom?

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates social media efforts of AHCJ and assists with the editing and production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

Embargoes, a fairly frequent topic of discussion on Covering Health, seem to bring out strong feelings in some people.

In one recent example allegedly involving embargoes, TheStreet.com’s Adam Feuerstein attempted to combat a rumor that the New England Journal of Medicine would be publishing an article about the experimental lung cancer drug seliciclib – a rumor that was seemingly driving up the stock price of Cyclacel Pharmaceuticals.

Feuerstein looked at his advance copy of NEJM and reported that no such article was coming out. He was immediately accused by a commenter on the story of having broken the NEJM’s embargo.

news-stand

Photo by Billingham via Flickr

As Reuters Health Executive Editor – and AHCJ board member – Ivan Oransky asked, “Is saying what’s NOT in an embargoed journal breaking the embargo?” Oransky concluded that it was not a case of breaking an embargo. The ensuing discussion on Twitter and in the comments on Feuerstein’s article is interesting. For the record, the NEJM apparently sided with Feuerstein, according to a commenter on the story.

Today, Oransky weighs in on the wider topic of who is served by embargoes on medical studies:

Two weekends ago, at ScienceOnline2010, I heard an interesting thing about embargoes. Connie St. Louis, who directs the science journalism masters’ program at City University, London, told an audience that one of the reasons for embargoes on scientific journal studies is that with more eyeballs on the study before publication, it’s more likely researchers will catch flaws in papers, which can then be pulled.

In other words, just as the FDA requires drug companies to monitor drug side effects in large populations once a drug is approved, in what’s called post-marketing surveillance or phase 4 testing, because such side effects may not show up in relatively small trials, this is a sort of post-acceptance peer review. So if a reviewer doesn’t catch an error during the normal course of peer review, journals can use the embargo period as a backstop.

I hadn’t heard that before, and I consider myself fairly well-acquainted with the arguments for and against embargoes. But it reminded me again that for all the talk of embargoes serving the public by allowing reporters to write more-informed stories, there are serious questions about whether journals are the group that gains most from embargoes.

As it turned out, I was in the midst of another episode that reminded me of that. Last week, the Cochrane Library published their quarterly set of reviews. Among them was a review of whether opioid drugs, when used as prescribed, carried a high rate of addiction. Cochrane researchers found that they don’t. That’s not the biggest research finding ever, but when you run a health news wire service filled with dozens of stories a day, like I do, it’s something worth covering. Plus, opioid dependence remains a big issue, for celebrities and lawmakers alike.

That study was embargoed for 7 p.m. Eastern on the 19th. Around the same time I was reviewing it, the Annals of Internal Medicine press packet hit my desk. That packet — embargoed until 5 p.m. Eastern Monday the 18th — included a paper that said high doses of opioids, even if prescribed, increased the risk of overdose. Again, not the most shocking study ever, but researchers and advocates continue to debate whether these drugs, when used in prescribed doses, are dangerous.

I figured the best way to serve our readers would be a story that included both of these studies, both as context for the other. Trouble was, if I ran one based on the Annals study, I couldn’t mention the Cochrane review. And if I waited for the Cochrane review’s embargo to lift, a competitor might run the other story. (Yes, we think about these things.)

So I emailed Jennifer Beal, who runs media relations for the Cochrane Library’s publisher, Wiley, explaining the situation, and asking her if she would consider moving the embargo. She returned my message right away, saying politely that she couldn’t, and explaining why, in a message that I found thoughtful.

“We thought about it very carefully but felt that our guiding principle with embargoes is that we are giving media an opportunity to investigate a story fully without the pressure to publish immediately, so that the story is still ‘new’ on the day the research gets published, and is therefore available for public consumption,” she wrote. “If we were to agree to a moved embargo, it would mean that you…would be writing about a story where the research was not available for the public to read if they wish and make up their own minds.”

The opioid study, she noted, was “one of approximately 160 articles publishing on Wednesday; this is a big operation where the publication schedule is planned out a long way in advance, so it is not possible to move forward the publication date.” (In a long-planned move, Cochrane is now going monthly, which will distribute the reviews more evenly.)

Based on resource constraints, I decided we could only run one story on opioid addiction or overdose last week. We ended up running a story on the Annals study, which seemed a bit more newsworthy than the Cochrane review. As it turns out, a number of news organizations covered the Annals study — Seattle’s LocalHealthGuide ran an item, which the Seattle Times picked up; The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and our competitors HealthDay and Bloomberg, among others. As far as I can tell, only a site called MedIndia ran a story by the Health Behavior News Service pegged to the Cochrane review.*

(I should say here that I’m a big fan of the Cochrane Library, access to which is an AHCJ benefit. Some have criticized them for rejecting everything other than randomized double-blinded controlled clinical trials, but I’d rather see more rigor than less, given how often hype and poor evidence tend to rule the day. So this isn’t really about a problem at Cochrane. It’s about how embargo policies, whether well-intentioned or not, often make me wonder whether they serve the public.)

So whom did this Cochrane embargo serve? I’d argue it didn’t serve the public, because we and others couldn’t include news of it in the story we did decide to run. You might even say it didn’t serve Cochrane either, since I’m guessing many of my colleagues decided not to run something on it for similar reasons. And their rationale for not moving the embargo at least had the public in mind.

The episode reminded me of the CDC-autism embargo fiasco last fall, in which the CDC and the journal Pediatrics refused to lift an embargo on autism rate data that many in the autism advocacy community had already reported on. To me, the Cochrane decision was more justifiable, even if I didn’t like it.

Many have questioned embargoes, notably Vincent Kiernan, in his 2006 book “Embargoed Science.” Kiernan makes a convincing argument that embargoes serve journals most, by giving reporters something to cover every month or every week. Nowadays, that’s even more true, I think, as I see an increase in papers embargoed just 1-2 days, rather than the typical 5-6.

Still, when you run a high-volume news service, as much as you’d like to, it’s not reasonable to reject all embargoes in favor of 100% enterprising reporting. Our clients would be very unhappy, and justifiably so. Instead, we can try to cover studies with as much skepticism and context as possible. But when I hear yet another reason why embargoes might help journals, as I did at ScienceOnline2010, I’m only encouraged more to challenge the idea that embargoes are there for the public, and at least force journals to defend how they handle them.

Ivan Oransky, M.D., is executive editor of Reuters Health and AHCJ treasurer. Follow him on Twitter, where he periodically gets into debates about embargoes, among other things.

*Update:

After this post was published, we heard from Lisa Esposito, editor of the Health Behavior News Service, who tells us that Medscape and Elsevier Global Medical News did cover the Cochrane opioid review.

Oransky on H1N1, pandemic, vaccination and 1976

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism, and he has blogged for Covering Health ever since.

AHCJ board member Ivan Oransky appeared on Brian Lehrer Live to discuss H1N1. The relevant segment starts at about 38:50 into the show.

Among the issues discussed:

  • Why H1N1 is a “pandemic,” what that really means, and how the designation has affected the public perception of the outbreak.
  • The effectiveness of the widespread adoption of hand sanitizers, especially in the context of flu and other viral outbreaks.
  • Vaccination and the lessons/relevance of the 1976 swine flu “outbreak,” in which the vaccine turned out to be more dangerous than the actual flu.
  • The level of immunity created by the first wave of H1N1 earlier this year.
  • Media behavior during this outbreak, and the media’s responsibility to communicate as much information as possible without being “sensationalist.”