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Contest Entries

Dubious Medicine

Entrants: Trine Tsouderos and Patricia Callahan

Affiliation: Chicago Tribune

Metro Newspapers

Year: 2009

Place: First Place

Provide a brief synopsis of the story or stories, including any significant findings.

Chicago Tribune reporters examine Lupron – a testosterone inhibitor used to treat precocious puberty and to chemically castrate sex offenders – and its reputed ability to be a "miracle medicine" for a disease with few mainstream medical answers: autism. In looking into Lupron, the Tribune found a world of alternative treatments for autism with fervent supporters who made big claims they said were backed by science. But when reporters evaluated the treatments, painstakingly analyzing each claim, each paper, each therapy through a lengthy dialogue with scores of medical experts, parents and doctors, they found the therapies were risky and unproven and the science backing them was junk. The Tribune provided readers and parents with hard evidence and some difficult truths, concluding that thousands of children with autism are being subjected to mass uncontrolled experimentation every day.

Judges comments: This powerful series combines first rate medical writing and rigorous investigative reporting to expose doctors who perform what the authors rightly call "uncontrolled experiments on vulnerable children" with autism. Writing with the authority that comes from total command of the material, Tsouderos and Callahan bring new clarity to a notoriously murky subject-autism treatments. They document a horrifying brand of bad science perpetrated by bad doctors on desperate families, but they do it without a hint of hyperbole or sensationalism. Their straightforward, professional tone lets the facts tell the story. The result is an important-and devastating-piece.

Read "Dubious Medicine."

See the contest questionnaire in which the reporters write about how this story was written.

See a tip sheet from Tsouderos and Callahan about reporting on autism treatments.