Skip to comments."How's Your Wife? - Compared to What?"
Posted on 10/19/2005 7:54:15 AM PDT by Congressman Billybob
The title is, of course, an ancient joke from the vaudeville circuit. Its an appropriate way to praise, rather than attack, one particular article and in the process to attack ten thousand others.
Here is the lede from Show Me the Risk! by Deroy Murdock in NRO (National Review Online) on 19 October 2005:
According to The Archives of Internal Medicine, pharmaceutical companies market a drug that kills some 7,000 Americans annually. These people dont die instantly, but instead expire after slowly suffering gastrointestinal bleeding. Oddly enough, TV-news producers are ho-hum about this deadly medicine. The Food and Drug Administration has yet to prohibit it. Personal-injury attorneys aim their crosshairs elsewhere. No one seems much concerned about a lethal substance called aspirin.
Murdocks article goes on to discuss a number of examples of the low death risk (comparable to the aspirin risk) from other drugs which have been withdrawn from, or driven from, the market. His article should be required reading for all reporters who write stories about deaths from preventable causes. Which is to say that ALL American reporters should be strapped to a chair and compelled to read this article, before being allowed in public again with a pad and pencil.
The broader subject of this article is comparative risk. As the great Professor Aaron Wildavsky taught me and many others, All public policy should be based on an assessment of comparative risk. This concept demonstrates the fundamental error in the reporting on any situation, drug, disaster, war, whatever, that costs human lives. Such reporting is always defective if it does not put those deaths in context.
And, that context as Mr. Murdock and Professor Wildavsky patiently point out, is this: How many other deaths are prevented, and at what cost, by the very process whose death rate is under attack? The clearest possible demonstration of this failing in the press is the reporting on deaths caused to young children and small adults by the use of auto seat belts. People below a certain size should not use a standard seatbelt. If they do, some will die. But those highly preventable deaths will not hold a candle to the lives saved by the general use of seatbelts.
Any reporter or editor who reads this article and wants an excellent introduction to risk assessment can follow the reading of Murdocks article with Wildavskys Riskless Society.
The qualify of reporting, and the publics understanding of public issues, would be vastly improved if every reporter and every editor, before filing/publishing any article on human deaths and injuries, would lean back in his/her chair and ask this question, Compared to what?
John / Billybob
Great article, thanks.
Like the environment, socialist utopians use risk to further their cause....ignoring higher risks if they don't promote the cause, and fixating on lower risks if they do...i.e. stomping on the big business that produces the chemical of note.
Another case in point, radon in ground water. Can be a high risk but.....God is the responsible party not big business because radon in ground water occurs naturally. So this issue was hot until it became apparent that it had no political viability.
There is also much irrational emotion involved. I worked on a case where tritium vapors were legally emitted into the atmosphere under permit. In foggy weather same tritium vapor descended to the ground and entered non-potable shallow ground water. Breathing Tritium vapor is far more risky to health than ingestion of tritium, yet, the tritium in ground water became an environmental issue of concern. I was happy to point out this contradiction in my report
This occurred in a nuclear free zone. It was a fun case.
The problem is that medical journals and most mainstream media outlets rely heavily on pharmaceutical advertising. The general public does not get an accurate assessment of the risks of the drugs. Nor are adequate safety trials done, again, because the only funding available is from the drug companies themselves.
The risk assessment argument is also fallacious with regard to vaccines, which are often mandated as a condition of employment or school attendance. I should be able to insist on complete safety for a medication that is being forced on me.
Very similar to the logic the far left uses: 1900 soldiers have died in Iraq (over 3 years) vs how many people die on American highways every year.
Perspective is sorely lacking in the great unwashed's minds these days.
Another great post,
I enjoy reading your articles, keep up the great work.
ditto It would be an improvement if everyone (including educators, journalists and editors) considered context.
Isn't it our tax dollars that fund the research that goes into developing these drugs? How many years of research (and how many millions of dollars) for each medication do we flush when we take the drugs off the market all because a small percentage of users had adverse reactions or died?
Researchers work very hard for years to develop a drug to benefit the greatest number of people who are in real pain and discomfort. They cannot guarantee a benefit to all.
I've seen it many times attributed to Socrates about his wife Xanthippe. Ancient indeed!
Take two asprin and call me... when you die! (Lawyer advice).
My best friend had a pretty bad accident about 4 years ago (hit by a car). He's pretty upset by Vioxx being taken of the market. Says it was the only thing that took care of his chronic pain. He believes that it should be his informed choice to continue to take it, now that he has been apprised of the risks.
I have an SUV with that. I like the feature.