Health and Medicine

The British Medical Journal Story That Exposed Politicized “Fact-Checking”

By Matt Taibbi

The fact-checkers who flagged Paul Thacker’s British Medical Journal article about a Pfizer subcontractor for Facebook admitted they police narrative, not fact.

In February of 2010, the New York Times released a front-page story entitled, “Research Ties Diabetes Drug to Heart Woes.” The lede read:

Hundreds of people taking Avandia, a controversial diabetes medicine, needlessly suffer heart attacks and heart failure each month, according to confidential government reports that recommend the drug be removed from the market.

The Times piece quoted an internal F.D.A. report that said the GlaxoSmithKline diabetes drug Avandia, also known as Rosiglitazone, was “linked” to 304 deaths in 2009, adding the conclusion of the two doctors who authored the report: “Rosiglitazone should be removed from the market.” The story was released in advance of a Senate Finance Committee study that produced a series of damning internal documents, including one in which an FDA safety officer expressed concern that Avandia presented such serious cardiovascular risks that “the safety of the study itself cannot be assured, and is not acceptable.”

One of the chief investigators on that study was Paul Thacker, at the time a committee aide under Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley. Multi-year document hauls like the Avandia report were Thacker’s stock in trade. I first met him around then because his committee frequently dealt with financial crisis issues I covered. Thacker, who went on to contribute to a number of commercial and academic journals, was trained in a tradition of bipartisan committee reporting that relies heavily on documents and on-the-record testimony, i.e. the indisputable stuff both sides are comfortable backing.

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Categories: Health and Medicine, Media

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