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Disquieting Journalistic Ethics: Michael Levin Challenges NY Times and Supplement Basher Hurley PDF Print E-mail
Written by John Weeks   

Disquieting Journalistic Ethics: Michael Levin Challenges New York Times and Dietary Supplement Basher Dan Hurley

Summary: On January 16, the New York Times published an essay by supplement-bashing author Dan Hurley entitled "Dietary Supplements and Safety: Some Disquieting Data." Michael Levin, an Integrator advisor who has held executive level positions in pharmaceutical, medical devices and dietary supplement companies, immediately researched Hurley's core assertions and discredited them. Here is the full letter to the editor which Levin has shipped off to the New York Times. Are clear thinking and accuracy of interest to this staid daily?
Send your comments to
for publication in a future Your Comments article.

Image
Michael Levin, past exec for both Big Pharma and dietary supplement industry
Journalist Dan Hurley is the author of Natural Causes: Death, Lies and Politics in America’s Vitamin and Herbal Supplement Industry. As part of his promotional work for the sensationalist book, Hurley convinced the staid New York Times to print a lengthy extract on January 16, 2007, entitled "Dietary Supplements and Safety: Some Disquieting Data." 

When Integrator advisor Michael Levin read the article, he immediately researched Hurley's core claims. Levin, a healthcare consultant, has served in executive positions in both pharmaceutical and dietary supplement businesses. His research uncovered evidence that what is most disquieting are the lies and politics behind the New York Times and others in the media mainstream, such as CBS News , who are giving Hurley huge forums to grossly mislead the public.

Here is the letter, in its entirety, which Levin has sent to the editor of the Times. We'll let you know how the
Times responds.

________________________

Levin's Letter to the Editor, New York Times


ref: "Diet Supplements and Safety: Some Disquieting Data" Dan Hurley, January 16, 2007


To the Editor:

Mr. Hurley's essay regarding the safety of vitamins and dietary supplements was, indeed, disquieting. He referred to "a national database accumulating strong evidence that some supplements carry risks of injury and death, and that children may be particularly vulnerable."

Image In examining that database ("2005 Annual Report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers' National Poisoning and Exposure Database", Lai, et al, Clinical Toxicology, 44:803-932, 2006) , it became clear that Mr. Hurley's "disquieting data" is wholly misleading and utterly unfounded. His bias is reflected in the fact that he did not disclose to his readers that the statistics he cited included suicide attempts, multiple drug use and events related to children's misadventures in the household medicine cabinet.

Consider:

1) Regarding deaths from all causes: Dr. Lai, et. al. reports "of the 1,261 human poisoning fatalities reported, 89.6% of adolescent deaths and 76.6% of adult deaths (older than 19 years) were intentional" (page 811). Clearly, the vast majority of deaths were deliberate acts which have absolutely no reflection whatsoever on the safety of the products involved when they are used as directed or prescribed.

2) Regarding deaths associated with dietary supplements: Every fatal incident was deemed as an intentional act (e.g., suicide) and involved multiple agents. As an example, the glucosamine-related death concerned a 79 year old who intentionally committed suicide by ingesting two prescription drugs (verapamil and naproxen) and glucosamine. The 25 year old whose intentional suicide involved melatonin also self-injected insulin and drank a pine oil/isopropyl alcohol cleaner.

3) Regarding dietary supplements: 99.4% of the 23,769 events involving dietary supplements involved children, 14,137 of whom were under the age of 6. The 13 reported deaths reflected 3,515 intentional acts (e.g., suicide).

4) Regarding electrolytes and minerals: 99.5% of the 32,098 events involving these products involved children, 23,755 of whom were under the age of 6. The 13 reported deaths for this category reflected 1,616 intentional acts (e.g., suicide).

5) Regarding vitamins: 99.7% of the 62,446 events involving these products involved children, 48,604 of whom were under the age of 6. The 1 reported death for this category reflected 2,691 intentional acts (e.g., suicide).

During this same period, poison control centers received 265 reports of exposure to weapons of mass destruction (WMD). That no deaths were attributed to WMD does not imply that they are safe. Likewise, the misadventures and deaths associated with vitamins, minerals and dietary supplements, when considered in their context of use and widespread availability, does not imply that they are unsafe.

Mr. Hurley's sensationalist essay seems to be little more than a poorly veiled attempt to sell his latest book.

Over 100 years ago, Mr. Walter Williams wrote the Journalist's Creed which states, in part, "I believe that clear thinking and clear statement, accuracy and fairness are fundamental to good journalism". Through his biased essay, Mr. Hurley demonstrates that he does not share those same values.

And, if his essay goes without being corrected by the New York Times, it will be evident that Mr. Hurley and the NYT share similar values. Your readers deserve nothing less than accurate, fair and unbiased reporting. I hope you agree.

Sincerely,

Michael D. Levin
12042 SE Sunnyside
Clackamas, OR 97015

________________________

Comment:   Levin's balanced background makes him an exceptional resource on natural product-related issues. When Levin shared the letter with the Integrator, he sent along the following useful
"take-home messages."

  • Protect your kids from the dangerous stuff you have lying around the house! They'll eat anything!
  • If someone really wants to kill themselves, they'll use anything and everything!
  • The anti-supplement agenda is alive and well in our media.

And so, apparently, is yellow journalism. Good work, Michael. We'll let you know if the NYT sees fit to publish this fine rejoinder.

Send your comments to
for publication in a future Your Comments article.


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