Wednesday, August 27, 2014

New York Times piece on Pradaxa (dabigatran)

It seems the folks at BMJ think they've uncovered a scandal in the approval and launch of Pradaxa. (What they actually “uncovered” was nothing of the sort although some bloggers have piled on with the idea). Based in part on the BMJ report the NYT ran a piece about the risks of Pradaxa. Dr. John M then gave the NYT article a nice smack down:

This purpose of this post is to clarify misstatements made in a recent New York Times article about the anticoagulant drug dabigatran (Pradaxa). The piece had three major inaccuracies, plus one thought-error from a cardiology leader.

I encourage you to read the rest of Dr. John's post for specific examples. This sort of thing is not unusual for NYT reporting on medicine nor is it unique to them. There's a problem that arises when a journalist tries to present a scientific topic to the general public: it gets dumbed down. Way, way down sometimes, for several reasons. Often journalists uncritically accept and run with popular myths (in the case in question, the myth that patients taking warfarin cannot eat certain green vegetables). Sometimes they gloss over important distinctions (in the case of the NYT piece the author either didn't know, or didn't care about the difference between relative risk and absolute risk). Perhaps most importantly scientific topics, when reported with the nuance and subtlety they deserve, lose a lot of their value as a “story.” This last reason, though no excuse for sloppy reporting, is a common. To report on medicine to the lay public is to take something that's arcane, tentative and sometimes ambiguous and make it interesting. It can be done but few journalists seem to take the effort required to pull it off well.

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