Reflections on 2020: You can’t mask this reality

By | May 15, 2021

It is deeply disheartening for me to reflect on how health care information was miscommunicated so often by so many different players in 2020.  In my 47-year career, I never saw a President, his Administration, some federal health agency leaders, many elected officials and so many others distort and deceive and mislead Americans so often on vital health care issues as I witnessed this past year.  Some news organizations and individual journalists rose to new heights in clarifying and analyzing to help the public.  But other corners of the journalism and public relations professions sunk to the bottom of the daily drumbeat of dreck – harming more than helping.

On this page I am posting links to each of the 44 articles I published on in 2020. I wrote all but four of them; the others were written by Mary Chris Jaklevic, who now writes for the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Many of the lessons embedded in these posts are as valid today as they were even if published months ago.

January 15: A machine-versus-doctors fixation masks important questions about artificial intelligence.

January 17: How easy it is to be misled by Medicare Advantage marketing 

(The 2-month gap in publishing occurred when I thought it was safe to go on vacation. You can see that ended abruptly in March.) 

March 19: News release labeling to combat a global scourge of exaggerated claims 

March 20: Suffering sciatica! How 2 stories on same study reported with different emphases 

March 22:

The President and the pandemic: two months of dithering, deceit and distortion

March 26: Federal health agencies block journalists’ access to COVID-19 experts & information. 

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April 1: Strong caveats are lacking as news stories trumpet preliminary COVID-19 research

April 9: Self-promoting MDs hawk unproven COVID-19 pandemic treatments

April 16: ‘Love your lungs’? Exaggerated screening claims seem more out of step than ever

April 17: Slow down your giddy on Gilead news

April 21: NY Times “Well” column is unwell again – this time on pandemic running advice

April 23: Shining a light on super-spreaders of coronavirus misinformation

April 29: The COVID-19 research news rollercoaster is running again: STAT News + Gilead’s remdesivir

April 30:

What the public didn’t hear about the NIH remdesivir trial

May 3: The start of a study is often not newsworthy – even when you bring God into it

May 5: Thanks for missing, but it’s still here

May 5: Mutant coronavirus story upsets scientists about preprint journalism

May 7: Flubs and flaws in New York Times stories on llamas and coffee

May 19: Warning: early vaccine trial results don’t always stand test of time

May 20: 

Journalism in pandemic: online training for thousands of international journalists

May 21: Avoid single patient, single source COVID-19 stories – especially on “cures”

June 2:  60 Minutes promotes one hospital’s “promise of plasma”

June 3: Reuters report is another classic case study in how NOT to cover COVID-19 news

June 12: Same old, same old, with NY Times Well column – bisphosphonates for pneumonia this time

June 16: Following the dexamethasone COVID-19 drug news as it unfolds

June 17: Pharma PR appears as unvetted COVID-19 vaccine news in STAT newsletter


June 30: For breakfast, give me 2 observational studies and an anti-irritant 

July 3: Some global reaction to the news of US mass purchase of remdesivir 

July 13: Why make international news out of 9 vague patient reports on remdesivir?

July 17: Criticism of NY Times’ Coronavirus Drug and Treatment Tracker 

July 21: JAMA: Communicating Science in the Time of a Pandemic

JAMA: Communicating Science in the Time of a Pandemic

July 21:  One day of COVID-19 drug & vaccine news provides cautious reminders 

July 24: in the news about COVID-19 

July 28: What you need to know about the Alzheimer’s test news

July 30: Things you should think about when you hear “vaccine by end of the year” 

August 5:  Drug company influence on journalism 

August 6: Crazy week of PR & news on studies should teach us how/what to ignore

August 24: Convalescent plasma: another controversial clash of politics & science

September 4:  It has come to this: ignore vaccines-in-animals drug industry PR & news

September 7:

Perfect storm of politics, PR, polluted messages to the public

September 24: How COVID-19 drug/vaccine decisions might be based on little evidence

November 9: Post-election health report: a time for healing 

November 9: Transparency by drug companies, scrutiny by journalists, vital in vaccine news

November 23:  “Investigating Health & Medicine” – Global Investigative Journalism Network Our contribution to a new global resource 

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