Tuesday, May 17, 2011

What Does Propublica Want?

It's an healthy question to ask after Propublica's recent exposes on the Heart Rhythm Society and SCAI. So I turned to the internet to find this piece published previously in Slate:
What do the Sandlers want for their millions? Perhaps to return us to the days of the partisan press. The couple made their fortune, which Forbes estimates at $1.2 billion, at Golden West Financial Corp. In recent years, they've spent millions on politics. The Federal Election Commission database shows the two of them giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to Democratic Party campaigns. In 2004, Herbert Sandler gave the MoveOn.org Voter Fund $2.5 million, again according to the FEC database. The Center for Responsive Politics Web site reports donations of $8.5 million from Herbert and Marion to the 527 group Citizens for a Strong Senate, in the 2004 cycle. CSS was formed by "a group of strategists with close ties to former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards," writes the washingtonpost.com's Chris Cillizza. American Banker reported in 2005 that Herbert also gave $1 million to the California stem cell initiative and that the pair have also funded the progressive Center for American Progress.
While I do feel there's a need for healthy disclosure of industry ties with physician groups, it's helpful to keep in perspective the origins of the recent investigative reporting. Is it meant to beat down doctors further into submission in the health care debate to make us cogs in the corporate wheel rather than innovators in care?

It's low-hanging fruit to take shots at the sources of funding to doctors' societies. I wonder if Propublica will perform similar reporting for the sources of funding for members of our Judiciary?



Anonymous said...

Great article! This is something I did a little research on as well ... an effort that yielded some interesting results.

Pew Charitable Trusts donated $1,000,000 to ProPublica in June of 2010 and released their "dollars for docs" database in October (http://www.pewtrusts.org/program_investments_grant_details.aspx?id=59829) under the auspices of “operational support." Pew's donation accounts for 10% of ProPublica’s total 2010 operating budget of $10 million (http://www.propublica.org/about/frequently-asked-questions/), which clearly is enough to sway their reporting.

What few have tied together is the fact that Pew also funds Pew Prescription Project (http://www.prescriptionproject.org), an advocacy/activist group that has been the driving force behind new conflict of interest rules in academic medical centers, as well as so-called "sunshine" and "gift ban" legislation. They were gracious enough to help Partners HealthCare, Inc (owners of the largest Harvard hospitals) write their COI policy: http://www.partners.org/documents/CommissionReport_PartnersHealthCare2009.pdf).

Not surprisingly, they are also strong proponents of academic detailing, on possible purpose of their COI and transparency efforts: Remove private industry and insert academic or government entities. (http://www.prescriptionproject.org/tools/initiatives_factsheets/files/Academic-Detailing-Fact-Sheet_CB.pdf).

So it seems that Pew has marshaled a fairly well orchestrated attack from inside academia and the media as well.

Certainly needs greater consideration...

PS Sorry to be anonymous ... Pew may not enjoy this and don't care to have them pursuing me (like the physicians). Reply comment with an email if you'd like more.)

Keith said...


You certainly can't be advocating for the types of entanglements that have been uncovered over the past years of physicians and medical societies receiving sizable payments that cloud objectivity? You ask what does Propublica want? I think they want sunlight to shine on all these cozy relationships between for profit interests and physicians that benefit financially for being nothing more than paid hucksters for their products.

First thing I always look at these days when I read a journal article is who paid for the research. If a medical society holds a meeting, I would certainly want to know who is funding it as well. In the case of your society, Pro publica discloses that the CEO makes a boodle of money, and I would bet that is what drives the need to have all these medical device companies put up the funds for this event. Gotta pay those handsome salaries that would be otherwise difficult without these subsidies. So who is the CEO working for? Members of the society or Boston Scientific, Medtronics, and St Jude?

There is a frequent conference for internists called Pri-med. Admission is often free for this conference for those internists who want to attend.. Who pays? A conglomeration of pharmaceutical companies that arrange the speakers and topics that just happen to always be about subjects that push the use of their branded products. Is this fair and balanced, or are we being marketed to in the form of a paid informercial? I would ask the same of your conference. There are legitimate questions as to if industry gains influence through its sponsorship of these meetings.
After all, you are the one that pointed out that this group was willing to sell out the movement of its members at its meeting with tracking devices embedded in the ID cards.

DrWes said...

Keith -

It's hard for any doctor today to not realize the magnitude of corporate infiltration into our meetings. But just as the RFID had tacit motivations beyond those that are more easily identifiable, so too might the motivations of journalistic forces that report on these meetings' activities.

I often wonder if doctors consider the forces behind what they read. Case in point was the mysterious retraction of the Biotronik exploding ICD case report. Who supported that journal's "reporting?"

Nothing is as innocent and altruistic as it may seem any longer in medicine, irrespective of what we'd like to think. My goal is to make sure that the sources of funding for publications, be they right- or left-leaning, be just as transparent. Then, at least, we can have an honest appreciation for what is being said or advocated.

Anonymous said...

Lotsa money everywhere you look here. Do we agree that money may influence? The best hope is "sunshine" - lots of it. You did a little investigation into Propublica and another commentor detailed Pew. That's fair. Now may we ask the same scrutiny when articles from The Washington Times and Wall Street Journal are published?

TIm said...

Check out Fox News' investigation into the vast investment George Soros has made in the media, from news outlets to Journalism education:

Charles Ornstein said...

The article you mention was written before ProPublica even published its first article. Since then, I am proud that our news organization has twice won the Pulitzer Prize and a host of other awards. Closer to home, my colleague Tracy Weber and I have long written about health care and oversight issues. We have written about deadly mistakes at a hospital in South Los Angeles, major problems at transplant centers in California and elsewhere and the systemic failure to oversee problematic nurses. These have led to important changes. Our current stories about the relationships between the drug and device industry and physicians are our ideas alone. No one from our board or our funders sees them until after they appear in print.

Hope this clarification helps.
Charlie Ornstein

Anonymous said...

Amazing, it was out of shear a coincidence that Pew Foundation which funds the anti industry Prescription Project gave ProPublica $1,000,000 on June 9th, 2010 and later that year they began writing stories on physician industry relationships. I am glad to learn of the total independence, that no one from their board or funders sees the stories until after they appear in print. So then why is it so amazing to ProPublica that physicians and associations accept money from industry, which industry for the most part Industry has little or no input in content and also maintains independence from funders.

If ProPublica is pure and believes you can be independent than perhaps the physicians and associations they so wrongly accuse deserve the same respect.

TIm said...

ProPublica receives money from the "Open Society Foundation!" whose web site is http://www.soros.org/. It amazes me how the socialists can, with a straight face, look you in the eye and tell you it's dark outside when you're squinting in the noon day sun! Saul Alinsky told them that "the end justifies the means." Be sure that Mr. Ornstein and ProPublica toe the line for Comrade Soros!

Anonymous said...

ho, ho, ho, ho, ho, ho, ho, ho, ho, ho, ho, ho,

Right. Check out Fox investigative reporting.

Tim said...

I can't tell if you "ho, ho, ho..." is a derisive comment about Fox News or not in this format. The intrusion of Soros into the media is easily proven, if you take the time to look for yourself. If you disagree, give us some facts, not just an ad hominem attack that is so typically socialist!

Tim said...

"... You did a little investigation into Propublica and another commentor detailed Pew. That's fair. Now may we ask the same scrutiny when articles from The Washington Times and Wall Street Journal are published?"
Anonymous, you could could give your evidence as to who might be pumping funds to those publications to influence their writing. Koch Brothers? Who? We want evidence, not inuendo!