Book review: A coffee enema for a health writer

UMass Med School pediatrician, Darshak Sanghavi — who also writes a column for Slate –trashes a new book on junk science by a noted New Yorker health writer in tomorrow’s NY Times Book Review.    

(Note that the book was favorably reviewed by another Slate writer)

..(T)here are two ways to deal with scientific illiteracy: take a long, hard look at the forces that repel so many from science, or throw up your hands and write people off as fools.

Michael Specter, a science and public health writer for The New Yorker, shows little interest in the first approach in his pugnacious new book, “Denialism,” which carries the ominous subtitle “How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives.” He devotes chapters to anti-­vaccine zealots, purveyors of organic foods, promoters of alternative medicines and opponents of race-based medicine, accusing each group of turning “away from reality in favor of a more comfortable lie.”

Doesn’t Harvard have an entire department devoted to this? Make sure you read their listing on Source Watch for the full picture of where they might be coming from.  


Harvard Magazine on Atul Gawande

In my struggle to earn a  living as an independent journalist, I often wish I had a day job. But, maybe one a little less demanding than Dr. Gawande’s.  Here’s a  Harvardy profile.

The medical writing for which Gawande is best known represents only a small fraction of his professional output. He is a surgeon, and a busy one at that, performing 250-plus operations a year. He is a professor at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). He heads a World Health Organization initiative on making surgery safer. And he is a husband and a father of three.

Hospital chief calls for “blog rally” to save The Boston Globe

      I’ve written a lot of stories that exposed some unpleasant things about very good hospitals. And I’ll write some more, I imagine.

            In journalism, you are always in danger of alienating thin-skinned sources. So, it was interesting to see a BI chief Paul Levy lead the blog charge to save The Boston Globe.

            A quick review of the Globe archives finds that Levy, personally, has good reason to support the paper. A recent column praising his handling of potential layoffs drew a strong response. And, a Globe investigation in December reported that BI rival, Partners Healthcare, had been gaming the system in a way that raised the cost of health insurance  in the state.    

            I think the Globe does a great job covering hospitals with the staff they have left. And I don’t think they favor Levy. But he does get a lot of good press, despite a campaign by the healthcare workers union, 1199 SEIU, that charges the hospital with everything from union busting to poor patient care.

            Still, give Levy credit for recognizing that health care will suffer with the demise of reporting — which is really what we are losing with newspapers. It is in the public’s interest to have professional reporters – not just bloggers — covering cities like Boston. Remember, the Herald has been teetering for years.

             We health reporters translate medical findings, cover providers and try to explain reform. Sometimes we actually produce something literary. And, like the reporters who cover government, we’re watchdogs. It’s not so-called “gotcha” journalism. We look at how things are supposed to work – like the FDA, Walter Reed Medical Center and Partners. If they’re not working that way, we look closer.

            Reporting is hard – I have to teach teenagers how to do it. And as imperfect as you think we are, you’ll miss us when we’re all gone. I often find the the NYTimes link to AP health and science news empty these days.

        I’m not saying we have to stick with the old, paper business model. But, we do need to find someway to preserve and support high quality, independent reporting.

Disclosure: A close family member works at the Globe