Monday, October 28, 2013

Investigations: MD's Book Says Pharma Suppresses Unflattering Drug Studies

Just saw this interesting Ted report on a book by UK MD Ben Goldacre's book Bad Pharma: How Drug Companies Mislead Doctors and Harm Patients.

Goldacre talks about how pharmaceutical companies conceal unflattering studies that show their drugs are ineffective. He said he was himself duped into prescribing medicine he says was ineffective to a patient after reading about positive research.

Later, he learned the "positive" results were from only a single study, while other studies were less flattering or had gone unpublished altogether.

The Ted item raises questions about evidence for five common medicines.

"Drugs are tested by the people who manufacture them, in poorly designed trials, on hopelessly small numbers of weird, unrepresentative patients, and analysed using techniques that are flawed by design, in such a way that they exaggerate the benefits of treatments," Goldacre writes in his book.

"We only ever see a distorted picture of any drug's true effects."

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Da Biz: Can Free News Via Tablet Save Newspapers?

Are newspapers doomed? What can they do to survive the internet and a dramatic loss of ad money in the past decade?

Here's an interesting blog item from Montreal journalist Steve Faguy on how one of North America's oldest newspapers is trying to save itself -- by encouraging people to stop paid print subscriptions and taking a big gamble on free news via tablet.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Awards: Go Behind-the-Scenes With Canada's Top Investigative Journalists and Stories

This just in: The Canadian Association of Journalists has put out the annual special awards edition of its magazine Media.

It's got first-person stories from some of Canada's leading journalists talking about how they did their award-winning stories.

Featured are the finalists in the latest CAJ and National Newspaper Awards.

It's a great primer for how to conduct a professional and impactful investigation -- besides simply offering some great storytelling.

In Da News: Secretive Trans-Pacific Trade Deal Called a "Corporate Coup"

Ever heard of the Trans-Pacific Partnership? Me neither.

And yet, this far-reaching trade liberalization deal for the Pacific Rim -- covering nearly 40 percent of the world economy and 800 million people, including Canada and the U.S. -- could have important impacts in our lives.

And the agreement is already nearly a done deal. U.S. officials hope it will be concluded by the end of 2013.

The U.S.-led agreement, which one critic calls "a corporate coup d'état," would reportedly give pharmaceutical companies more years of monopoly prices on patents and the ability to restrict cheaper generic drugs (an initiative that led the group Médecins sans frontières to call the deal "the most harmful trade pact ever for access to medicines"); enact mandatory fines and household bans for internet copyright violations; and restrict the ability of governments to regulate or oversee things like food safety, fracking and banking misdeeds.

Here's a web discussion moderated by Maclean's magazine with more details.

Lack of Transparency

Odd that such an important deal wouldn't have gotten more attention in the news. I always thought I was reasonably well informed, but I first read about this proposed deal just today.

And it seems Canada's Harper government -- which supports the deal -- isn't displeased with the lack of attention, the Huffington Post reports.

As of late August, Canadian MPs didn't even have access to the negotiating text, this item says.

In some places where the deal is better known, it's not getting the most positive reception. In Malaysia, it's causing an uproar because it could limit the government's ability to promote affirmative action for ethnic Malays.

The Economist says the lack of transparency could imperil the deal and "feeds conspiracy theories." This Maclean's item agreed.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Investigative Journalism: Acetaminophen Overdoses Killed 1,500 in U.S. in Past Decade

Excellent investigative series here from ProPublica on the little-known dangers of acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol.

The popular pain-reliever has killed about 1,500 Americans in the past decade due to overdoses, the investigation found.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has known about the dangers, but hasn't acted to inform the public or taken other action to reduce overdose risks.

The problem is the drug has such a small margin of safety between recommended doses and dangerous levels, the investigation found.

Story idea: If you're a journalist in another country, ask your own government's officials what they're doing.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Legal Stuff: U.S. Journalist Faces 105 Years Largely For Posting a Public Link

Extraordinary story here of the Obama administration's aggressive approach to whistleblowers and journalists.

A U.S. investigative journalist, Barrett Brown faces an incredible 105 years in jail, in large part for posting in a chat forum an already public url link to internal emails from the private intelligence firm Stratfor, which were hacked by a third party.

Brown has written for The GuardianVanity Fair and The Huffington Post.

He's been in custody since a heavily armed FBI raid on his home in Sept. 2012, after which he was denied bail.

If all this wasn't amazing enough, Brown and his legal counsel were slapped this month with a gag order preventing them from speaking to the media about the case.

Read more about Brown's chilling case in this Rolling Stone story and on this support site.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Investigative Journalism: Radiation Rises Dramatically in Dental Offices

Despite growing awareness of health risks from x-rays, radiation is on the rise in dental offices - thanks to the growing "indiscriminate use" of CT scans, which pump out as much as 60 times the radiation of conventional dental x-rays.

Read how a dental x-ray radiation could affect your health, what authorities are doing to minimize it (or not!) and what you can do about it in this story I just did in Vancouver's Georgia Straight weekly.

See more background on the problem in this New York Times investigation, which revealed that questionable marketing has fueled an explosion in the use of cone-beam CT scanners in dental offices.

Investigative Journalism: 2,776 Unauthorized Surveillance Incidents in 12 Months

So much for the Obama administration's assurances that its massive electronic snooping program is subject to extensive safeguards and oversight.

"Every now and then, there may be a mistake," said U.S. deputy attorney general James Cole in congressional testimony cited by the Washington Post.

Turns out "every now and then" actually means 2,776 incidents of unauthorized collection, storage, access or distribution of legally protected communications in the 12 months up to May 2012.

That's according to an internal audit by the U.S. National Security Agency. The Washington Post published this story on the audit, which was provided by ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Resources: Investigative Journalism Techniques From the Black World

Just found this interesting top-10 list of books written about the failure of torture to provide useful information, written by U.S. army lieutenant-colonel Douglas Pryer, who is in military intelligence.

Pryer's list consists mostly of real-life war-time accounts of interrogators who used respect and brains to bring around captives, instead of brutality.

Such accounts aren't just valuable as an indictment of torture and the media that supports it in various movies and TV shows.

They also present techniques of information gathering useful to a journalist dealing with reluctant sources (including those in the security and police community whose experiences are recounted in the books).

Pryer is also author of Fight for the High Ground: The U.S. Army and Interrogation During Operation Iraqi Freedom, May 2003-April 2004.

Astute readers may recall an earlier post I wrote on the same topic back in 2010. It was about a 203-page study of "intelligence interviewing" produced by the U.S. Intelligence Board, which answers to the CIA director.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Tools: Worried About the Edward Snowden Revelations? How to Protect Your Investigative Reporting

Concerned about protecting your confidential sources and communications after Edward Snowden's revelations about Big Brother snooping?

Just came across this interesting post on how to do just that from investigative journalist Dan Meredith of Radio Free Asia. Includes tools to conceal your web research, email, calls and files from prying eyes.

Be aware, of course, that using some anonymity tools can actually be a red flag for spies, themselves attracting attention. Do your own research!

Here's a good tipsheet from the Global Investigative Journalism Network on protecting your investigative reporting.

And on a related note, here's a 65-minute video of former MI5 intelligence officer Annie Machon talking about how spy agencies use and manipulate the media, hosted by the UK's Centre for Investigative Journalism.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Investigations: Canadian Forces Failing Injured and Ill Vets

Solid investigation here from The Ottawa Citizen on Canada's failing support program for injured and mentally ill vets.

A freeze on funds has left support units overwhelmed and unable to cope with the quickly growing demand for help from soldiers needing help after returning from Afghanistan, the story says.

"The army doesn't look after its injured soldiers," one severely injured Afghan vet said. "If I had worked at Walmart I would have been looked after better."

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Awards: Two Nominations for Fukushima Fish Radiation Story

Congratulations to me! My story in Vancouver's Georgia Straight weekly on how the Fukushima nuclear disaster affected the Pacific fishery has gotten nominated for a Canadian Association of Journalists award for investigative reporting in the magazine category.

It was also nominated by the Western Magazine Awards for a prize in the environment category.

Thanks to Straight editors Charlie Smith and Martin Dunphy and publisher Dan McLeod for their unswerving support for investigative stories - one of Canada's last remaining bastions for this type of reporting.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Awards: Canadian Writers Take Note

Writers and editors in Canada take note. The fourth annual writing awards of the Professional Writers Association of Canada are now open for entries.

See more details here.