How the U.S. Food and Drug Administration controls science stories

From Charles Seife at Scientific American:

The deal was this: NPR, along with a select group of media outlets, would get a briefing about an upcoming announcement by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration a day before anyone else. But in exchange for the scoop, NPR would have to abandon its reportorial independence. The FDA would dictate whom NPR’s reporter could and couldn’t interview.

The government wouldn’t budge on that, and the situation only accidentally came to light. But practically the eintre Who’s Who of big U.S. media science journalism showed up to cover the “story.”

This kind of deal offered by the FDA—known as a close-hold embargo—is an increasingly important tool used by scientific and government agencies to control the behavior of the science press. Or so it seems. It is impossible to tell for sure because it is happening almost entirely behind the scenes. We only know about the FDA deal because of a wayward sentence inserted by an editor at the New York Times. But for that breach of secrecy, nobody outside the small clique of government officials and trusted reporters would have known that the journalists covering the agency had given up their right to do independent reporting.

The traditional “embargo” on a science story enabled journalists to collect information privately before everyone published, so that the stories would not sound like—and be—mere media releases.

The new close-hold embargo seems aimed at the opposite. Science stories will be media releases from official sources during the period when everyone is paying attention.

Properly speaking, we should not regard these types of communications from Top Media as stories at all, rather as announcements. We should not regard the media who are prepared to co-operate  as news sources, rather as purveyors of government announcements.

There are a lot of these “disturbing” (Scientific American) developments out there now. But at least we are reading about it. We can’t fix what we don’t know or can’t acknowledge.

See also: Study results released under court order show patients misled. Peer review: It’s not good if courts are catching more of this stuff than peers.

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  • Government – never your friend.

    • FactsWillOut


  • dukestreet

    I remember watching a TED talk by a scientist who wanted all studies released so that we would at least have more accurate info available. At present, if 8 studies are done on a drug and 2 are positive & the others negative, the positive ones will be published for sure, only one of the negative ones would see the light and it would be the least damaging one. The majority of negative studies would never be published.

    So, many of the drugs we take actually don’t work much according to the actual studies,but, we will never know the truth about them.
    Meanwhile, vitamins, which have never killed anybody that I’ve heard, are very dangerous. it’s an insane world we live in now.

    • Norman_In_New_York

      The same is true of HIV test kits, which measure certain proteins found in antibodies said to be triggered by HIV infection and do not directly prove the presence of the virus itself, with the blood sample diluted to one part in 400. They all come with disclaimers by the manufacturers that their test alone does not prove HIV infection. What do we make of this?

      • dukestreet

        Health Canada & the FDA no longer do independent drug testing as they once did and now rely on the drug companies’ tests. Since we know that studies that show what the companies don’t want us to know, are almost never published, we are screwed. Nobody protects people any more. Money speaks louder than ever.

        My former family doctor used to have drug company salesmen knocking on her door on a regular basis. Since the drug companies can “discover” new uses for their poisons thus, selling more for unproven uses & can change one inert ingredient so that they can get a patent for the “new” drug, they are an ever increasing money bag with little cost to the company.
        Ever notice that there are not many new drugs being developed for serious diseases and/or infections,but the number of drugs sold for ed etc. is growing every year.

        Suddenly a drug developed for epilepsy is good for nerve pain. The market for nerve pain is much greater than for epilepsy,but, they don’t have to do any tests or studies to prove it. The company just announces the discovery. It’s a huge racket western governments are in on.

        • FactsWillOut

          I wouldn’t trust Health Canada or the FDA to test a fucking placebo.

          • dukestreet

            The drug companies do the testing now. I’d say they are even less trustworthy than Health Canada or the FDA.

    • FactsWillOut

      The studies belong to the people that paid for them, to do with as they please. Forcing folk to release them is not the answer.

  • FactsWillOut

    Caveat Emptor.
    Doctors are like mechanics. Some will prescribe whatever drugs Big Pharma pays them best for, others will actually try to help you. As always, its up to the individual to sort it out. Individuals who are unable to do so pay the price. With mechanics, they get fleeced, with doctors, they could die. Expecting the state to step in and “fix” this situation is ludicrous. I suggest watching “The Dallas Buyers Club” for some insight into the murderous, crony capitalist racket the FDA engages in.

    • dukestreet

      With doctors, they do die,but, vitamins & supplements are too dangerous to take. How many people have you heard of dying from the correct dosage of vitamins?

      • FactsWillOut

        The same amount of people I’ve heard of going blind from smoking. Zero.

        • dukestreet

          And yet, doctors in Canada used to lose their license for encouraging people to take them.

          • FactsWillOut

            …and they still aren’t allowed to prescribe them.

          • dukestreet

            correct. I can’t get my doctor to write anything about the stuff I need so I can get a break on it from customs. it’s too dangerous to the license to practice medicine. Even though the Dr. says I need them.