Scorching attack on Wall Street Journal’s anti-FDA bias; group releases full transcript of interview

The Center for Medicine in the Public Interest has published a toe-curling criticism of the way the Wall Street Journal is covering the Food and Drug Administration, specifically the paper’s attempt to portray Dr. Janet Woodcock, who heads the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, as a megalomaniac who believes herself to be on a par with Ghandi. Here’s how the story by Alice Mundy begins:

“At a recent retreat for Food and Drug Administration employees, a slide show likened the agency’s top drug regulator, Janet Woodcock, to “visionary leaders” such as Golda Meir and Gandhi.

Some lawmakers are fuming about a $1.5 million contract for morale-boosting that the FDA awarded the consultant that prepared the slideshow. The agency’s problems, including questions about decisions on the safety of some popular medicines, are likely to come up in Senate confirmation hearings starting Thursday on Tom Daschle’s nomination to be secretary of Health and Human Services.”

As part of her story, which broadly suggested that the FDA was not responding adequately to numerous “crises” over drug safety,  Mundy interviewed Dr. John Jenkins, the FDA’s director of the Office of New Drugs, who said that the slide was to inject humor into the discussion but that Woodcock was seen as a visionary by many people.

Overall, Mundy’s story was hardly suggestive of probity or effectiveness at the FDA. The question that CMPI raises is whether Mundy’s account is fair or even credible – and it plays something of an ace when it publishes the full transcript of Mundy’s interview with Dr. Jenkins.  Let’s just say that the two-day meeting takes on a different complexion when Dr. Jenkins explains it in detail – in fact, it looks just like the kind of managerial intervention and oversight that would be applauded in any other business field. At the very least it suggests that there’s a different  (but less obviously newsy and scandalous) story to be told.

The disconnect is a reminder that doctors, scientists, and government regulators should ALWAYS record their interviews with journalists – and quickly publish them when they find themselves being selectively quoted.

5 Responses to Scorching attack on Wall Street Journal’s anti-FDA bias; group releases full transcript of interview

    • Nick, your question strikes me as that of someone who didn’t read the article or the interview with Dr. Jenkins because he was rushing to post an ad hominem. So, go back and read the transcript of the interview with Dr. Jenkins, and then read the Wall Street Journal article. The disconnect has nothing to do with who or what CMPI is – it simply published the transcript.

      Having said that, CMPI tends to know more about the real meaning of statistics than any news organization (eg, Avandia), and are a very useful counterbalance to the nonsense written about drugs, clinical trials, and health care reform in the mainstream press. How bad is that nonsense? Have a read of Dr. Nirit Weiss’s article on the National Scorecard on our main page: CMPI has been critical of this particular project; the media has reported it uncritically; our analysis of the Scorecard’s methodology objectively shows that it’s junk.

  1. The disconnect has nothing to do with who or what CMPI is – it simply published the transcript.</i

    CMPI did more than publish the transcript: they wrote a "scorching attack" (the blog post you linked to). But who is the CMPI? And who funds them? I think these are important questions, not ad hominem attacks.

  2. Nick, this is part of the rhetoric of undermining science and journalism – a way of never having to deal with the substance of either – it becomes all about the attribution of motive. And if a group can be shown to be funded by industry, its motives are not only suspect, that suspicion becomes the means by which the substance is decoded. Your initial response was a rhetorical attack – but without any concession to the substance, it suggests that your motives are less than scientific.

  3. Raising issues about possible conflicts of interest is not the same thing as dismissing an article (be it a report of a scientific study, a news article, or a commentary).

    Consider, for example, the issue of publication bias. Suppose that an organization funds a number of high-quality scientific studies. Studies whose findings suit the organization are published, while the less convenient studies are suppressed. From a scientific perspective there is little to criticize about the published studies. But the process produces a bias.

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