Media doesn’t always report research funding sources

By Tom Nordlie • Published: January 23rd, 2009
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

The news media constantly inform us about medical advances.

But we don’t always get the full story.

Case in point… coverage of research papers funded by drug companies.

Those studies aren’t necessarily biased.

But it seems reasonable for the media to mention who’s paying.

According to an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, that doesn’t happen consistently.

The authors analyzed more than three-hundred newspaper and Web site stories on industry-funded medication studies published in prominent medical journals.

The results showed forty percent of these stories didn’t mention the company funding.

Among stories that disclosed that fact, less than twenty percent placed it in the first one-hundred-fifty words.

That leaves a lot of room for readers to conclude the studies were funded by sources with no financial interest in the results.

Here’s a related factor… ninety percent of these stories involved drugs available by brand name AND generic name.

But almost forty percent of the stories referred only to the brand names.

That can leave consumers unaware of less-expensive generic drugs.

The reporters and editors involved may not be trying to confuse anyone.

It may be they’re just ignorant of the facts, or they oversimplify things to make their stories accessible to laypeople.

Whatever the reason, it’s clear that more diligence is needed in the newsroom.

After all, the media is supposed to be a watchdog. And that duty doesn’t end when the dog fetches a paper… even if it’s a research paper from a medical journal.