Tuesday, January 31, 2006


One of the jobs I had in academia in the not too distant past was that of Assistant Dean of Continuing Medical Education. As such, I was responsible for organizing programs for medical professionals that provided formal CME credits that were necessary for re-licensure.

In order to be certified as a "Category 1" CME program, certain standards have to be met in the presentation; the most important of which is that it be "free of commercial bias". This usually means that the speaker is not supposed to include his personal biases about one particular drug or another; and was responsible for presenting objective data and a neutral evaluation of that data.

Speakers know this in advance, and are also expected to disclose all the financial connections they have with various drug companies (including speaking for them; getting research money from them, etc.). This sort of thing used to be done on the "honor" system, but it was found that too much bias was seeping into medical education; and those lecturers getting large amounts of money from drug companies where under pressure to promote that company's educational agenda.

One of the ways compliance to these standards is measured is through an evaluation form filled out by the audience after each presentation. The evaluation specifically asks if any commercial bias was detected in the talk.

I have to say that the system works pretty well. When a presentation is billed as a "CME" lecture, then these criteria go into effect. Everyone understands that a non-CME lecture or conference does not have this kind of minimal oversight regarding bias or the promotion of certain drugs or pharmaceutical company agendas. and therefore, takes that information into account when evaluating how useful the presentation or conference is.


I propose that every news article published in the formal print media; every story reported on news TV and on newsmedia internet sites, have an evaluation form attached to them which asks the reader about detection of personal bias in the reporting. There should also be a "Disclosure" section in every newspaper and on every news show that openly lists financial donations or ties of any kind to political parties or identified partisan groups.

This should be the standard operating procedure for news organizations; and should be recognized as being absolutely essential to any claims of honest, fair, and unbiased journalism.

While not perfect, this process works for medical professionals and it keeps the information presented to them reasonably unbiased--or at least makes them aware of possible biases that they can take into account in assessing the information presented to them.

The "honor system" in journalism of full disclosure is not working very well these days. I don't see why a similar process couldn't work for anyone who expects to be taken as a professional in journalism.

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