Watching TNVZ SUNDAY’s programme about the oral contraceptive pill, called “Wonder Drug”, my mind kept flitting back to the fair grounds of old. Merry go round horses, ever rising, and lowering and the ceaseless crackly potted music; metal clown heads, swinging wide open mouths, and the croaky voiced candy floss man intoning his automated speil. This was how I perceived the surreal presentation which characterised Janet McIntyre's uncritical canonization of a British Medical Journal article published on 11 March 2010. She followed the rest of the media who described this study as “titanic”.... forgetting that the unsinkable Titanic,... sank. Janet was unblinkingly content to present people who thought that the Pill should be available over-the-counter, with no controls, to anyone of any age. Caution and monitorring be damned. Let’s get with it, full speed ahead. Titanic, indeed. Which will of course, fix global warming! Hurray....
Not ... one... question... of real substance was asked.
If I had been asked to research this article for a balanced presentation the first question to ask myself would have been, “Has the BMJ put underneath the article on their website, criticisms, concerns or comment to the Editor about this study? Yes they had. That debate stopped on 5 May, 2010. Plenty of time to find out WHO the people were, expressing serious concerns about the study's legitimacy. Why were they concerned? What were their backgrounds. Why did they raise several serious confounders which the researchers had not even considered? All this basic information, right there on a plate, at the end of a mouse.... was ... ignored.
And who is this Dr Ellen Grant? It is easy to see from her responses, that her knowledge of these issues is extensive. Why might that be? So... Dr Ellen Grant is a gynocologist/physician. She has written two books on the contraceptive pill trials and surrounding issues: “Bitter Pill: How safe is the perfect contraceptive?” and “Sexual Chemistry: Understanding Our Hormones, the Pill and HRT”. Every woman should read these books, old as they are, and read Dr Grant's e-responses at www.bmj.com. More importantly Dr Grant was involved in the extensive early trials on the pill, and has made the topic, her “life”. You might think she'd be worth talking to.
You'd also think - wouldn't you, that with such basic information in front of any competent investigative journalist, that at the very least, Dr Ellen’s scientific knowledge and views would have been sought, in the interests of fully informing women that the contraceptive pill is far from a wonder drug?
Problem. Dr Grant is in UK, which isn't nearly as conveniently located as an 80 year old codger in Melbourne and two NZ spurts. As I watched these three medical people Janet chose to let ramble on, looking utterly smug, and also gobsmacked, .... I had to keep pinching my leg, and reminded myself, "Today isn’t 1st April!".
Some of the others commenting to the BMJ may also have been worth talking to, particular the number cruncher who said, “So imagine my surprise to find that the crude death rate of 2864/25942 (0.1104) is just a little lower than 1747/15559 (0.1123). This 0.98 crude ratio must have undergone considerable manipulation to yield an "adjusted" relative risk of 0.88.”
This mockery of investigative journalism is what happens when a journalist doesn't know what she doesn't know, and seems not to be able to see if there was something she should know.
The real story here, isn't just about the pill. Also on this "money for jam" plate medicate-everyone-for-life, ...sits statins for kids and normal healthy adults accompanied by it's phalanx of spin as well. Search around, and a vast list of "easy money" just itching to join the ranks, will appear just like magic.
Winners? Drug companies will be delighted. As will TVNZ's advertising revenue recruiters.
Losers? The public. As usual.