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How the Media is Dangerously Inflating the Voices of Patient Activists

When the media unduly amplifies the voices of patient activists, they put public health in jeopardy. Image source, va.govMy piece on the dangers of unbalanced health reporting was published at on Wednesday. In describing the dangerously powerful megaphone this coverage gives to patient activists, I reference the emotion-based reporting as it was outlined by CardioBrief’s Larry Husten in Forbes and lament its lack of contribution to what should be a scientific discussion:

In the Avastin episode, the unbalanced reporting focused on the moving pleas of patients angry with FDA officials for presenting scientific evidence questioning the benefits of Avastin when weighed against its risks and forecasting death if the drug “they believe in” is no longer approved for use to treat breast cancer. Regardless of your view of Avastin’s effectiveness, this kind of hyped-up rhetoric without scientific basis should carry no weight in a scientific discussion. It would not be entertained if it came from anyone without the ability to tug at heart-strings.

The real problem, however, lies in how this coverage has the potential to unduly influence the decisions of policymakers:

My concern is not so much that scientists are going to be unduly influenced by patient activists: they usually know better. The real problem is the impact on both the public and on policymakers, those trusted with making the decisions that should be based more on detached science than emotionally appealing arguments. Because decisions that stray from science tend to waste taxpayer dollars and restrict consumer choice, good-government policy dictates we pay less attention to this type of patient advocacy.

You can read the whole piece at

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