Journalism failure? Autism-vaccine story represents a triumph of journalism.

January 12, 2011

By Kate Johnson

How ironic that people like Neil Cameron blame the vaccine-autism mess on journalism, when it was actually a journalist who first blew the whistle on Andrew Wakefield’s fraudulent study.

At a time when science journalists are struggling to retain their foothold let’s not forget the conclusion of the autism-vaccine debacle.

Medicine is a highly specialized field that calls for specialized journalists who can critically assess and examine scientific studies. Such journalists are a dying breed as media outlets downsize and health sections dwindle. New York Times science reporter Natalie Angier recently said science coverage is “basically going out of business” – which means the public must rely on non-specialized journalists to navigate the medical literature. While they do their best, how can such journalists know the intricacies of a field that science journalists spend an entire career learning? Read More »

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Patients’ Association of Canada Aims for Change “at the Interface” of Patients and Healthcare.

January 10, 2011

By Kate Johnson

The Patients’ Association of Canada is gearing up for its official launch next month and I’ll be watching with interest to see what kind of spin they put on their message. Without a doubt, a group that aims to add the patient voice to healthcare policy debate is filling a gaping void. The question is whether PAC’s voice will simply join the throng or whether it will trigger change.Read More »

Saving Science Journalism

July 8, 2010

By Kate Johnson

I always love to see a journalist speaking into a microphone rather than holding one – especially in the context of a scientific meeting. That’s why science journalist Steve Silberman fuelled my delight earlier this week with his address to the very cool-sounding “Raz Lab” workshop.

The Raz Lab, run by Dr. Amir (– you-guessed it) Raz, is part of the Institute for Community and Family Psychiatry and Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal. I didn’t attend the workshop – which was intended for international researchers with expertise in the placebo effect – but Silberman’s address was open to the public and it’s been on my calendar for weeks.

Silberman made a splash last fall with an article about the placebo effect that he wrote for Wired. That alone would have been enough to get me out, despite the Montreal heatwave. But what really piqued my curiosity was that he had been chosen to speak to a caste of scientists, AND in addition to talking about his research on placebos he was also going to tell them about the importance of science writing.Read More »

The Gut-Lung Connection

How Respiratory Disease is Informing Gastrointestinal Research

June 3, 2010

By Kate Johnson

For a gastroenterologist, Nicholas Talley takes an unusual interest in his patients’ respiratory symptoms. He also considers their dermatologic history a vital part of his work-up. As professor and chair of internal medicine at Jacksonville’s Mayo Clinic College of Medicine Dr. Talley is refreshingly willing to step outside of his field of specialty to gather clues and gain insight into the roots of gastrointestinal dysfunction.

In a recent issue of Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology, he and his colleagues shared their observations about the common co-occurrence of certain gut and lung disorders, suggesting complaints from both ends might share the same cause and perhaps, in the future, might also share one treatment.

In fact, now that spring has sprung, if you suspect that asthma and allergies may also upsetting your stomach, Dr. Talley believes you may be right.Read More »

Scanning the Scrum at the Association of Health Care Journalists. News and Navel-Gazing Challenges for Journalists and Scientists Alike.

April 26, 2010

By Kate Johnson

I got to head out of town for the Association of Health Care Journalists’ (AHCJ) meeting last week in Chicago. It was great to connect with so many other people who do what I do – or a version of it.

And there was an interesting mix of news and navel-gazing – the latter being of particular interest to me.

Despite the buzz about the first two big name speakers – both of them fizzled on the podium. Oddly, I thought it was an excellent way to kick off the meeting because it underscored a fundamental issue facing health and medical journalism.Read More »

Star Wars Chemotherapy: Nanotechnology Pushes New Frontiers in Pediatric Cancer.

April 20, 2010

By Kate Johnson

If I was a kid with cancer I’d invite Dr. Noah Federman to be the opening performance at my next birthday party. Dr. Federman is a pediatric oncologist, and Director of the Pediatric Bone and Soft Tissue Sarcoma Program at Mattel Children’s Hospital, UCLA – and while he uses a great deal of very sophisticated vocabulary that would fly right over the heads of my guests, he seems like the type who could make the necessary adjustments to fit his audience.

If I was the mother of a kid with cancer, Dr. Federman would be more than welcome at my kid’s party. Hearing him speak about nanotechnology at the American Society of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology I could picture a room full of sick kids and their parents drawing hope from his journey into deeper frontiers in cancer medicine.

I’m neither a kid with cancer nor the mother of one. What’s more I was probably the only non-scientist attending Dr. Federman’s talk. Perhaps it was this view “from the outside” that enabled me to see his potential as a birthday party performer.Read More »