Saturday, March 11, 2006



Caleb Crain notes over on his blog that he's taking Harper's to task for publishing an AIDS denialist article this month, a piece which Jon Cohen at Slate aptly pegged as "Pharmanoia":

To be sure, major drug companies and the battalions of academic researchers on their payrolls deserve intense scrutiny. And they have received it.... But as Big Pharma becomes the new Big Tobacco, some critics wildly exaggerate—see Celia Farber's article on AIDS and the corruption of medical science in the March issue of Harper's—turning shades of moral gray into black.

Ultimately, the problem with what Harper's did is not that they published an article by a crackpot. Science depends on skepticism, after all, even if the Celia Farbers of the world usually are wrong. The more fundamental problem is that Harper's did not balance a piece that could directly affect people's health by including a critical response to the profoundly serious charges being made. It's one thing to bloviate on cultural politics and political culture just to hear the sound of your own voice, but health reporting of this kind simply needs to meet a different standard.

Perhaps Harper's style themselves as provocative for doing this piece. Hardly. An infinitely more damning piece of journalism -- one shamefully overlooked by the media -- was Andy Lamey's takedown in The Believer of The New Republic and its publication of Elizabeth McCaughey's 1994 hit-job on the Clinton health care plan. If you want to get enraged over a writer's transgressions, stop wondering how James Frey sleeps at night -- very nicely, I should imagine, with his head cradled in billowy pillows stuffed with $100 bills -- and start wondering how McCaughey does.

I can only hope that Harper's has not also decided that dubious medicine is good for the circulation.... their circulation.

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