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SOUND OFF SUNDAY: Chicago Tribune Medical Writers – Part of the Flat Earth Society?

20 Dec

On December 8,  the Chicago Tribune ran a story on Lyme disease that was so poorly researched and reported, and well just plain one-sided,  that Lyme patients and advocacy groups were calling for retractions, apologies and the firing of the two reporters. It also ran in the
 Los Angeles Times, as both newpapers are owned by the Tribune Company.

 Trib reporters Patricia Callahan and Trine Tsouderos cherry-picked their way through science in their article entitled “Chronic Lyme Disease: a dubious diagnosis.” They have a habit of going after disease treatments at odds with mainstream medicine, as they wrote a similar article on autism last year as well as many others targeting anything outside of the mainstream box.

Red flag No. 1 is that Tsouderos only recently began writing on medicine and science. Prior to that she was the Trib’s………………wait for it ………………………….. food writer.  On her official Chicago Tribune bio she writes: “I have covered Hurricane Fran, Tennessee Walking Horses, Oprah, Jennifer Lopez’s (now defunct) relationship with Ben Affleck, cupcakes, freak bikers and the honeymoon suite at the Ritz.” 

The way in which Callahan and Tsouderos wrote is more appropriate for a blog. It surely wasn’t researched medical journalism. It was pseudo-journalism so on-sided that they obviously made up their minds before beginning their “investigation.” Whereas true medical journalist attribute facts to scientists, Callahan and Tsouderos simply used their own voices to lambast and ridicule physicians treating chronic Lyme disease and their patients.  

The reporting was so appalling that Callahan and Tsouderos were taken to task by other medical journalists on Knight Science Journalism Tracker, a website for peer review of science journalism.  The topic is brilliantly debated on this website.

Callahan and Tsouderos basically call many fine physicians charlatans. One in particular, Bernard Raxlen, MD, a psychiatrist in New York City, has saved the life of two people I know who had been thrown to the curb by other physicians. One Orange Park, Florida, mother said an advanced case of Lyme made her son so psychotic, that it wasn’t until the fifth month of aggressive intravenous antibiotics perscribed by Dr. Raxlen that they once again were able to see the son they once knew. 

Another patient was the only person, from what I can tell, who had her letter to the editor response printed in the Chicago Tribune. The initial publication of her letter online deleted the very name of the doctor who she attributed to saving her life – the one much maligned Dr. Raxlen in the article. It took many phone calls and emails to get Dr. Raxlen’s name put back in her letter.

The reporters also mocked those physicians who prescribed more than a few weeks of antibiotics to their patients as continuing to treat them for financial gain when there was no scientific evidence that prolonged antibiotic treatment helped. They held up medical establishments such as Johns Hopkins as evidence.

At a recent presentation of the Lyme disease documentary Under Our Skin at the University of North Florida, however, David Chinoy, MD, spoke about his year-long antibiotic treatment he received while being treated for Lyme at Johns Hopkins. Dr. Chinoy was a well-respected cardiologist in Jacksonville before getting bit by a tick right here in Jacksonville that sent him into a Lyme disease tailspin and forced retirement. Dr. Chinoy said he “was in bed for a year and in my easy chair for another year” and in the third year he started coming back to life.

Most Lyme disease patients have been all but abandoned by main stream medicine. If one has their Lyme disease diagnosed immediately upon acquiring it, a few weeks of antibiotics usually takes care of the offending bacteria. But those who have carried it with them longer, a few weeks of antibiotics may as well be a few weeks of aspirin. The complexity of Lyme disease is mind-boggling. Even infectious disease physicians will tell you that. And in most cases, patients don’t simply have Lyme disease; they have a host of other bacteria as well that were carried by the tick or other vector that bit them.

Here’s the rub too – doctors treating Lyme disease with long-term antibiotics are universally accused of putting the population at risk for anti-resistant bacteria. But nothing is ever said about dermatologists who treat acne with more than a year of antibiotics. So Lyme disease patients are to be deprived of what could cure them?

Dr. Raxlen refers to those like Callahan and Tsouderos as “the flat Earth society.” They know what they know and refuse to look at the facts otherwise.  They can be likened to those medical colleagues who ridiculed Drs. Barry Marshall and Robin Warren who received a Nobel Prize for their discovery that the bacteria h. Pylori causes peptic ulcers. For more than 100 years physicians believed they were caused by things such as stress and spicy foods. 

You’ll often read that Allen Steere, MD, is credited with “discovering” Lyme disease. Actually, it was a housewife in Lyme, Connecticut, Polly Murray, who discovered that something was making her family and many others in Lyme seriously ill.  She was relentless in her quest to pinpoint the offender, and she was also written off as a wacko housewife by the Public Health Department as someone with nothing better to do than cause trouble. She was a smart cookie though and did her homework. After more than a year, she took her findings to Allen Steere, MD, at Yale, who listened. You can read her story in her book “The Widening Circle: A Lyme Disease Pioneer Tells Her Story.”  (Woe to those who underestimate the determination of a mother to find the cause of her child’s illness.)

The bottom line on the Chicago Tribune story is that it should have stopped dead in its tracks on the editor’s desk.  As well, there hasn’t been one word from the paper addressing the story that caused an  influx of angry letters from around the nation. ONE letter to the editor was printed from a patient. None from the advocacy groups or other medical journalists. These were all posted online  in various places as “unpublished letters to the editors of the Chicago Tribune.”

Callahan and Tsouderos should not be allowed to continue as medical writers
for the newspaper. 


Sound Off Sunday – Gators, Jaguars and Jesus

12 Dec
Nothing rocked the Gator Nation this week as much as the announcement of Will Muschamp as the new head football coach at the University of Florida. Heir apparent to the head coaching job at the University of Texax, head-coach-in-waiting, whatever you want to call it, every bridesmaid wants to ultimately be the bride. I hear he’s got a fiery sideline attitude which will make watching my beloved Gators even more fun. Muschamp spent ten years as a youth growing up in Gainesville, so he has Gator blood. You can’t help but have it in the small Gainesville community that IS the Gators. Welcome home Coach Muschamp.


On to the NFL and Jaguar Mike Thomas . Someone needs to teach that young man how to Twitter responsibly. This week Thomas threw out a
frenzy-causing tweet that he was going to give away two tickets to Sunday’s game. But he didn’t give them away until several days later with some sort of contest for clicking on photos. Then he announced the winner and got it wrong. He had to make a retraction. He could sure take a lesson from David Garrad and his PR maven Bonnie Upright. Garrad announces when and where he is giving away tickets, and gets it done. Don’t be a tease Mike. Figure out your game plan then work it before you announce. You’re in the big leagues now.

And in even bigger leagues than the Gators or Jaguars is Jesus. He’s the man of the season. Take a look at this billboard below that was put up by the Lincoln Tunnel.

Evidently the American Atheists think it’s important to spend money to diss the Virgin Birth.  If this were any other religion in America it would be on the front of Time magazine and at the top of the hour on the news networks showing protest after protest. Can you even imagine if a similar sort of billboard was put up about the Muslim or Jewish faiths? Other people’s religious beliefs should not be mocked on billboards. The atheists spend far too much time focused on something they don’t even believe in. Maybe they should focus on their own kind such as rapists and murders who obviously have no God.

And that my friends is Sound Off Sunday.