Selling Sickness 2013

pro propublica

Investigative journalism is essential to the project of SELLING SICKNESS as we seek to understand disease-mongering and promote healthcare reform. PROPUBLICA, an online newsroom that produces journalism “in the public interest,” is becoming an important partner in our movement. Dedicated to “promoting change through journalism,” through focusing a spotlight on  fraud, waste and abuse, ProPublica has time and again in its six years of existence  dug out hidden information, connected the dots, and distributed results that increase public awareness and promote reform. They are especially keen that local reporters follow their leads and drill down with local investigations of their own, and the list of such grows longer.

We at SELLINGSICKNESS have especially appreciated ProPublica’s Dollars for Docs project, inaugurated in 2010. Apparently a tough technical website to set up, Dollars for Docs has allowed the public unprecedented access to inner marketing patterns of the drug industry. Enter the name of any physician and discover how he or she has been involved in research, speaking or consulting with Big Pharma. A recent entry allows you to click on the categories of meals or travel, research or gifts to see how much money each big pharmaceutical company has paid out, and how this new era of public scrutiny may be causing these sums to diminish.

And just today (!), as I (L.T.) was preparing this blog, along comes another whizzer of a story documenting how individual pharmaceutical companies pay over 1300 doctors both to consult and research – a kind of “double-dipping” completely out of step with conflicts of interest guidelines

ProPublica’s team of journalists include web-wizards working with computer code as much as they include old fashioned shoe leather sleuths interviewing victims and whistleblowers. These computer “nerds” build ProPublica’s databases and analyze their contents with the latest engineering tools — and then explain exactly how it all was done.

That last point is what I like especially. Activism is about building a movement through sharing skills and secrets of success, not just pulling rabbits out of hats and collecting accolades. ProPublica enthusiastically gives away its secrets, as in “Why we’re giving away our Reporting Recipe.”

A mission statement can be dry as toast, but, truthfully, I found ProPublica’s moving.

To expose abuses of power and betrayals of the public trust by government, business, and other institutions, using the moral force of investigative journalism to spur reform through the sustained spotlighting of wrongdoing.

Truth, Justice, and…. if only…the American Way.



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