22 July 1998
Source: http://www.thenation.com/i980706.htm


July 6, 1998

What's Wrong With the New York Times's Science Reporting?


When the world was engaged in a cold war and the most challenging issues of our time were overseas, the nation's newspaper of record, the New York Times, demonstrated an exemplary commitment to foreign coverage. The Times foreign desk, from which rose today's executive editor, Joseph Lelyveld, was as impressive as that of any media outlet in the world. If its foreign reportage could be faulted, it was for the reason the Times could always be faulted--its reflexive allegiance to the powers that be.

The same assessment could be made over the years of the paper's performance in times of hot war, political scandal or domestic crisis. Although the paper was too often aligned with the establishment, and coverage of strife, civil discord or the gate-of-the-day could always be criticized for implied political positions or nitpicked on details, readers were as well informed by the Times as by any other single medium.

When the world was engaged in a cold war and the most challenging issues of our time were overseas, the nation's newspaper of record, the New York Times, demonstrated an exemplary commitment to foreign coverage. The Times foreign desk, from which rose today's executive editor, Joseph Lelyveld, was as impressive as that of any media outlet in the world. If its foreign reportage could be faulted, it was for the reason the Times could always be faulted--its reflexive allegiance to the powers that be.

The same assessment could be made over the years of the paper's performance in times of hot war, political scandal or domestic crisis. Although the paper was too often aligned with the establishment, and coverage of strife, civil discord or the gate-of-the-day could always be criticized for implied political positions or nitpicked on details, readers were as well informed by the Times as by any other single medium.

As America evolved into a technological culture, science became an increasingly important beat. Times editors came to see the paper's scientific role as central to its purpose, as sound science became central to sound policy. Thus, over the past three decades, coverage of health, environment, medicine, biology, even physics and mathematics, has expanded exponentially in the Times's pages, where national giants of science writing--most notably Walter Sullivan, a Times legend who made science writing an art form--have made their mark.

But there is a problem at the Times that needs to be corrected if the paper is to attain the same status in science as it has in foreign and domestic coverage. In science, even more than foreign or domestic political coverage, the paper tends to side with power--in this case corporate power. And much of the problem is centered around the work of one very talented and controversial science reporter, Gina Kolata.

Kolata is an ace. When it comes to developing sources, procuring documents, researching complex data and breaking a hot story in clear and dynamic prose, she has few peers. "She has all the equipment," says an admiring Times colleague. And as her May 26 Science Times article comparing the behavior of plague bacteria to HIV attests, she is capable of demystifying the most arcane matters of science. Even her detractors describe her as "brilliant," "talented," "insightful" and "gifted." Since 1987 Kolata, who holds a master's degree in mathematics from the University of Maryland, has written more than 600 articles for the Times, many of them front-page blockbusters. Her stories routinely stir controversy and influence public policy, and upon occasion have had huge commercial impact. Few are the science conferences, journals or Web sites where her name is not heard or seen. On more than one occasion she has been mentioned as heir to the mantle of Sullivan. So why are so many of her associates at the paper, including her admiring colleague, so upset with her? And why is she held in such low esteem by so many scientists?

The answer, surprisingly enough, has very little to do with a recent episode that landed Kolata on everyone else's front page--her floating of a book proposal within hours after releas-ing a hyped story on May 3 about a couple of promising cancer drugs. Although the story stimulated spicy e-mail among science writers across the country, in the context of her eleven-year career at the Times it is seen as a misdemeanor. Professional disrespect has in fact accumulated gradually as a consequence of her reporting on some already heated topics: AIDS research, silicone breast implants, breast cancer, food irradiation and environmental hormones (endocrine disrupters).

Deconstruct her stories, source by source, quote by quote, and a familiar pattern begins to emerge. Upon re-interviewing the people she cites, it becomes evident that she appears to have decided before making her first call what her story will say. Her questions are suggestive, her tone combative. In the interest of the appearance of balance, sources of all persuasions are interviewed. But their quotes are carefully selected, at times modified to substantiate the predetermined position. Those scientists who disagree with her are either ignored, dismissed or trumped by someone anointed with higher authority--which usually means a longer string of initials after their name. The sources who agree with the author generally outnumber those who don't by a factor of five or six.

If Kolata's reporting faults were only a reflection of her own journalistic shortcomings, that would be bad enough. But to the extent that they reflect the attitudes of the Times as an institution, they suggest a Times policy toward coverage of controversial products of technology that is anti-environment, pro-corporate and fundamentalist in its approach to scientific inquiry.

It should be noted here that Kolata was offered ample opportunity, by phone and fax, to answer scores of specific questions related to this report. She provided a few minor facts in writing. But on the subject of this story her only spoken comment, made by phone from her desk at the Times, was "my reporting speaks for itself."

AIDS Coverage
Kolata established herself as a controversial reporter with her coverage of AIDS research, a mini-beat she assumed in the late eighties when the disease was raging through the country and activists in New York were picketing the home of Punch Sulzberger and the offices of the Times. The paper of record, they said, was ignoring a national epidemic, reporting only government press releases about research and writing off the severity of AIDS with an editorial that said "the disease is still very largely confined to specific risk groups. Once all susceptible members are infected, the numbers of new victims will decline."

In 1989 Kolata decided to challenge "parallel track" research. Parallel track permits clinical trials of experimental drugs on people--for example, those with full-blown AIDS--who would not qualify as subjects for ordinary trials because they are too sick or have taken other drugs. Although Anthony Fauci, AIDS czar at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Food and Drug Administration both approved parallel track experiments, Kolata questioned the policy and the science.

She was particularly disturbed by underground research being conducted by two activists in California named Martin Delaney and Jim Corti. Delaney and Corti were, with the assistance of ordinary clinicians, testing an experimental drug called "Compound Q," which had given hope to thousands of terminally ill AIDS patients. On occasion an experimental subject would die--quite predictably, Delaney and his collaborators believed. "They all had AIDS," Delaney says.

But Kolata consistently reported the deaths as a failure of research, attributing them to the drugs, even after being told by attending physicians that most of the subjects had died of unrelated or pre-existing causes. Twice, Delaney says, Kolata misrepresented his description of the research; he also claims that she repeatedly distorted his quotes. "And I spent hours with her, on the phone and in person," he says. Eventually Delaney wrote to Times editor Max Frankel to complain, making it clear that he would be pleased to see his letter in print. Neither the letter, nor a correction, ever appeared. "Good reporters want to get the story right," Delaney says. "Kolata wanted to get the story she wanted to get."

In her AIDS stories Kolata established a method that would become familiar to her readers. She found a few rigid and predictable ethicists and two or three prominent research physicians at reputable institutions upon whom she could rely to rail against parallel drug experimentation, and she quoted them repeatedly throughout her articles. It was nearly impossible for uncredentialed activists like Delaney and Corti to withstand that sort of condemnation.

One such source she quoted at length was Dr. Douglas Richman, a prominent research physician at the University of California, San Diego, who had expressed reservations about parallel track. Richman came to realize, however, that Kolata was distorting his remarks "for her own purposes." He wrote to Dr. Fauci at the NIH, who had also been quoted, and said, "Although I believe it is important for investigators to try to educate the public and to honestly express their beliefs, I am now clearly aware that Ms. Kolata is not the medium through which to do this." That letter also found its way to Max Frankel's desk, but never to the pages of the Times. And no one at the paper replied. Later Fauci himself reread Kolata's articles and realized that he too had been misrepresented by her. Fauci was quoted in the Village Voice as saying that some of Kolata's articles included "misrepresentations" or had "blown findings out of proportion," but the criticism had no noticeable effect on her career at the Times. Rather, it appears that she was invited to select another topic and given free rein to reapply her unorthodox reportorial methods.

Breast Implants and Breast Cancer
The topic she chose was silicone breast implants. Breast implants are a contrarian's dream topic because there are two distinct sides, both of which have sharpened their arguments during ten years of massive litigation against Dow Corning, Bristol-Myers Squibb and other manufacturers of the product. Pick either side and you're a contrarian. Stories from the middle ground get less attention.

Re-reading Business Week, Newsweek and most daily newspaper coverage of silicone breast implants, one finds a fairly balanced depiction of a now familiar story from the corporate-medical complex: Manufacturer launches exciting new product despite troubling animal research. Adverse reactions are reported, but dismissed, either as anomalies or the result of bad medical practice. Over the years complaints pour in from surgeons and their patients--in this case describing implant ruptures, silicone migration, connective tissue diseases and other disorders. Documents are discovered showing that manufacturers knew of hazards before the product was launched. Litigation ensues. People in misery blame manufacturers. Manufacturers blame product liability lawyers. Cautious reporters wait for juries to decide.

But Kolata didn't wait for verdicts. She weighed in with the manufacturers, repeating many of the arguments they had made in court, and when juries ruled for the plaintiff, as many did, she reported that they were willfully ignoring scientific verities. To substantiate her position, she quoted Dr. John Sergent saying, "I don't know a single, high-quality immunologist who is convinced that there is a definable disease related to implants." She did not mention that Sergent was a highly paid expert defense witness for Dow and Bristol-Myers, and she went on to write scathing criticism of doctors who accepted fees for testifying on behalf of plaintiffs.

To her credit Kolata found and exposed a few sleazy doctors who took patient referrals, and fees, from plaintiff attorneys in return for opinions that favored their clients. But from her exposé of their behavior she concluded that the entire case against Dow and others lacked merit and that a handful of trial lawyers had driven a perfectly decent company into bankruptcy. The presence of predatory lawyers and doctors does not, however, negate the possibility that a product might be damaging. Upon examining the evidence, juries found Dow Corning so guilty so often of corporate malfeasance that the company was forced into joining a settlement, for $4.2 billion, with the entire class of women who believe their lives have been ruined or compromised by breast implants.

Yet Kolata chose to side with the company. "A Case of Justice, or a Total Travesty? How the Battle Over Breast Implants Took Dow Corning to Chapter 11" blared the June 13, 1995, headline over Kolata's article about the bankruptcy, much of which read like Dow PR. An advertisement the company ran in a dozen major newspapers during May 1995 claimed that "plaintiffs attorneys have spawned a whole new industry from suing implant manufacturers." In her June report Kolata bemoaned "a legal juggernaut [that] can take on a life of its own...and bring a large and thriving company to its knees." If Kolata missed the rather obvious point, intimated by Dow's CEO in Chemical Week magazine, that the company's bankruptcy was intended to delay the remuneration of claimants, investors did not. The first quarter after bankruptcy was declared, Dow earnings broke all company records, and the stock has soared with the rest of the market.

While researching a separate breast implant story that ran on June 22, 1995, under the headline "New Study Finds No Link Between Breast Implants and Illness," Kolata contacted Dr. Gary Solomon at the Hospital for Joint Diseases. Solomon had patients who had developed connective tissue disorders following the rupture of breast implants. He was a natural source, and nearby in New York. They spent hours on the phone during which Solomon says he "walked her through nineteen published studies on the relationship between silicone and joint diseases." Recalls Solomon, "One of the studies I mentioned was negative. The others all indicated problems with silicone. Ms. Kolata reported the negative, accurately I might say, and ignored the other eighteen. And she quoted me citing the report in a way that made me sound as if I believed there was no problem with breast implants."

Solomon was furious. "She chose to ignore sound science that disproved her point and grossly misrepresented my position. I went back and reread her articles and it became clear that she had made up her mind about breast implants four years earlier." Solomon wrote a letter to the editor, addressed directly to executive editor Joseph Lelyveld, describing his experience with Kolata. There was no answer, and his letter never ran. Nor did a correction. In fact, the next time Dr. Solomon saw his name in the Times was in an article under Kolata's byline "lumping me together with physicians who charge exorbitant patient fees and side unfairly with breast implant plaintiffs."

Evidence of Kolata's harsh treatment of those who disagree with her can also be found in her October 1, 1997, review of an HBO documentary about breast cancer. A few days before HBO aired the film, the producers sent four videocassette copies to the New York Times. Although Kolata was not sent a copy, TV critic Caryn James sent hers to Kolata. Rachel's Daughters: Searching for the Causes of Breast Cancer portrays the pilgrimage of six women with breast cancer who travel around the country investigating the cause of their disease. The bulk of their inquiry is through dialogue with almost two dozen scientists who study cancer. Yet Kolata's review, titled "Trying to Place Blame When Breast Cancer Strikes," says "the women...are far removed from the universe of scientists."

Although breast cancer specialist Dr. Susan Love is quoted on camera saying, "We have no idea what causes cancer," Kolata accuses the women who seek Love's counsel of being "convinced that they were poisoned by their toxic environment." In fact, most of the women return from their quest deeply frustrated by the uncertainty of the scientists they have met. As one 28-year-old woman with a full mastectomy puts it: "The scariest thing was to walk away with no solid answers."

Kolata calls this "paranoid thinking" and derides women who regard themselves as Rachel Carson's daughters (Carson died of breast cancer) as emotional paranoiacs who should desert their suspicions that pesticides, radiation, plastics and endocrine disrupters just might bear some relationship to their illness and rely only upon scientists who believe "that when evidence fails to support a hypothesis, the hypothesis should be abandoned" (as opposed to keeping it alive as long as there is no clear proof one way or the other). Kolata closes her review by proposing that a prominent label be placed on the film: "Warning. What you are about to see may be heart-wrenching, but it has little or no basis in fact."

When Caryn James forwarded the film, she might not have known that Kolata's younger sister, Judi Bari, had recently died at 47 of breast cancer. However, Bari's long struggle with cancer didn't seem to affect Kolata's steadfast conviction that no environmental factors had been found to explain her sister's death. "Judi strongly believed that her cancer was environmentally induced," recalls her good friend Betty Ball, who says her sister's coverage of cancer--in fact her general stance on environmental issues--was deeply troubling to Bari, a committed forest preservationist who, after successfully opposing several redwood timber sales, was seriously injured in a 1990 car bomb attack.

Gina and Judi are the older of three girls raised by politically radical parents in Baltimore, Maryland. "Gina couldn't have turned out more differently," says Betty Ball. "Judi of course stayed true to her parents' politics. She adored them and was close to her younger sister, Martha. But with Gina she had real difficulty. She rarely spoke of her, except on occasion to say, 'I suppose Gina and I were sent here to cancel each other out.'"

The Times's review of Rachel's Daughters generated a flood of angry letters, most significantly from scientists who were derided by Kolata as "kindred souls" of the women who interviewed them. "Kolata naively demands 'proof' of the proposed relationship between cancer and toxic environments," wrote Dr. Donald Malins, director of the molecular epidemiology program at the Pacific Northwest Research Foundation in Seattle. "Those 'deeply familiar with science' will recognize that proof and convincing evidence for the highly complex epidemiological relationships...are seldom achieved." Dr. Richard Stevens of Battelle Pacific Northwest National Laboratory observed that Kolata's review was "snide, which betrays an emotional reaction, not a scientific one." Not one letter was published.

Food Irradiation
Kolata frequently sets up public advocates expressing opinions she considers wrong or ridiculous, as a case involving food irradiation demonstrates. Later, these advocates are contradicted by scientists with "impeccable credentials"--sources Kolata relies upon to counter the woolly-headed notions of environmentalists, disease victims and people like Michael Colby.

Colby is executive director of an organization called Food & Water, which, among other things, researches and publicizes environmental and health impacts of food irradiation. Kolata called him in connection with a story that ran in December 1997, knowing from his publications that he was opposed to food irradiation. She also knew that while the founder of Food & Water is a physician (Walter Burnstein), Colby is not. He is thus an impeachable source. "She was so condescending and so belligerent, I had to interrupt the interview several times," recalls Colby, who does not regard himself as an expert. "So I gave her names and numbers of twelve credentialed scientists with serious concerns about irradiation. She quotes none of them." Kolata did call at least one of the sources Colby provided, a Dr. Donald Louria, chairman of the department of preventive medicine and community health at the New Jersey School of Medicine. In the interview Louria raised serious misgivings about the technology. None appeared in the story.

A public advocate skeptical of food irradiation who Kolata knew could be troublesome was Dr. Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. CSPI could be dismissed--and was--as "a consumer advocacy organization." But Jacobson has a Ph.D. in microbiology, a fact that would add heft and respectability to whatever he said. After a short interview Kolata reported that Jacobson had told her "he was not concerned about the safety of irradiated food but was worried that meat processors might come to rely on irradiation to sterilize food that they had processed under filthy conditions."

"Kolata misinformed her readers," Jacobson says. He says that he in fact told her that he was "strongly opposed to the use of irradiation, an expensive process fraught with dangers...[that would] reduce levels of B vitamins, endanger workers and risk environmental contamination." On December 4, 1997, Dr. Jacobson wrote a terse letter to the Times, complaining about the distortion of his words. The letter never ran, nor did a correction.

Environmental Hormones
In early March of 1996 four New York Times editors convened by then­chief science editor Nicholas Wade met with Dr. Theo Colborn, Dr. John Peterson Myers and Dianne Dumanoski, co-authors of a forthcoming book about environmental hormones. The book, Our Stolen Future, documents the findings of wildlife biologists who have, over the past quarter-century, found strong evidence that endocrine disrupting chemicals, most of them organochlorines, have affected the health and fertility of hundreds of species of birds, amphibians, fish and the mammals that eat them. The purpose of the meeting was to update Times science editors on a subject they had to date given fairly balanced coverage.

The authors presented their findings, which were based on more than 4,000 studies performed by research physicians, endocrinologists, toxicologists and cellular biologists. Dr. Colborn and her colleagues cautiously suggested, in the book and to the Times editors they met, that research should be conducted to determine whether human health and reproduction might in any way be affected by these chemicals. And they proposed a modest set of protective measures that industry and citizens could take in the meantime--things like advising pregnant women not to drink tap water in some parts of the country.

When they had completed the briefing, Nicholas Wade, who like Kolata has little patience with presumptive evidence or the precautionary principle, slammed their materials on the table and flew into a rage. "This is not real science.... You are creating an environmental scare without evidence.... You have no credibility," were phrases recalled by the authors. "Wade railed on for at least two minutes," recalls Dumanoski, an award-winning science writer from the Boston Globe. When he was finished with his comments Dumanoski asked him: "Nick, have you read the book?" "No," growled Wade, "I haven't had time." She then asked Philip Boffey, who would be the one to write an editorial if the paper decided to run one, if he had read the book. He hadn't. "This book is an inductive argument that really should be read from beginning to end," cautioned Dumanoski. But the meeting was over.

The authors were shaken by Wade's outburst and a little concerned about whom he might assign to cover the issue. Their fears were well founded. On March 19, 1996, two long stories by Kolata appeared in the Science Times section. "Some environmentalists are asserting that humans and wildlife are facing a new and serious threat from synthetic chemicals," reads Kolata's lead, ignoring the fact that Colborn's hypothesis was drawn not from environmentalists but from the work of more than 400 scientists, all of whose names and numbers were provided to the Times. Throughout the main article she uses the "e" word repeatedly to describe Colborn and Myers, though both have doctorates in zoology. And she calls Myers's employer, The W. Alton Jones Foundation, "an environmental group." (The private foundation dedicates only part of its philanthropy to environmental issues.) Kolata invokes the expertise of Dr. Bruce Ames of the University of California, Berkeley, and Dr. Stephen Safe of Texas A&M, as she has often before, to counter Colborn and Myers's hypothesis.

Ames is an active adviser to The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC), a corporate-supported "watchdog coalition that advocates the use of sound sciences in public policy." TASSC has about 900 members, 375 of whom are scientists. The rest are executives from the chemical, oil, dairy, timber, paper, mining, manufacturing and agribusiness industries seeking ways to defend their products in media and the courts. TASSC's Web site offers examples of "junk science," alongside a host of entries defending bovine growth hormone, genetically engineered foodstuffs, dioxin, electromagnetic fields and endocrine disrupting chemicals. On the site can also be found almost every article Gina Kolata has written defending a chemical or technology. In 1995 TASSC awarded Kolata its "Sound Science in Journalism Award." Neither she nor the Times lists it among her awards and citations.

Stephen Safe's laboratory contracts with chemical manufacturers to assess the toxicity of their products. Kolata quotes him often to authenticate her conviction that it's time to quit doing research on the relationship between organochlorines and breast cancer. Both Safe's and Ames's names were on a list of "experts" circulated to the media by the Chemical Manufacturers Association, the American Crop Protection Association and the American Plastics Council in response to Our Stolen Future. Another name on the list is that of Michael Gallo, a professor of toxicology, whom Kolata quotes in the main piece describing Colborn's work as "hypothesis masked as fact"--a phrase used repeatedly throughout chemical industry briefing materials.

Nicholas Wade was given statements supporting Dr. Colborn's hypothesis and recommendations by the former scientific director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the immediate past chair of the Committee on Environmental Health of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the chair of the National Academy of Sciences' 1993 study of the effects of pesticides on children. If she saw them, Kolata ignored them all. Instead she repeatedly misstated the authors' conclusions in terms that echoed the twenty-two-page press advisory circulated by the Chemical Manufacturers Association. But even the CMA was more generous than Kolata. "We believe Dr. Colborn has raised a concern that deserves a full and complete scientific investigation," read that group's press release. "She is not alone in her theory."

Scores of independent scientists wrote to the Times complaining about Kolata's coverage of environmental hormones. None of their letters were printed and not a single correction of Kolata's mistakes was run. In frustration, several scientists contacted media adviser Phil Clapp at the National Environmental Trust in Washington and asked him to prepare a quarter-page ad for the New York Times criticizing Kolata's coverage and quoting some of the people she had interviewed but ignored. Times editors refused to run the ad. What bothered them most was a sentence that read, "Times reporter Gina Kolata...dismisses the widespread worries about endocrine disruption as the concerns of 'some environmentalists' and 'several biologists.'" Negotiations ensued. Change "dismisses" to "reports" and the ad will run, Times advertising officials told Clapp, who reluctantly made the change that neutralized the scientists' central indictment, and for the moment protected Kolata's journalistic reputation.

Inside the New York Times
The Times has a longstanding reputation for protecting its reporters. David Halberstam, whom President Kennedy tried unsuccessfully to get removed from his Vietnam post because of his critical reporting, says, "The Times has always backed its people until they commit a flagrant, hand-in-the-till offense. It's like a natural instinct." Former Times reporter Gay Talese, who has written a history of the paper (The Kingdom and the Power) disagrees on one count, citing the demise of Robert Shelton and Peter Whitney, redbaited from their desks under the watchful eye of James Reston. But that was the McCarthy era. Times have changed.

Halberstam and Talese both agree that the best way to assure institutional protection these days is to avoid persistent anti-corporate reportage, particularly if the subject is scientific or environmental. Recent lessons abound. Environmental reporter Phil Shabecoff learned his in 1990­91, when Washington bureau chief Howell Raines (now editorial page editor) told him, as Shabecoff recalls their conversations, "New York is complaining. You're too pro-environment and they say you're ignoring the economic costs of environmental protection. They want you to cover the IRS." Shabecoff quit.

After Shabecoff left, a young reporter named Keith Schneider assumed his beat, and went on to write articles on dioxin that enraged environmentalists nationwide, particularly those who believed that dioxin represents a serious health hazard. After Schneider and a team of reporters completed a series on Superfund sites that also distressed environmentalists, senior editors in New York called Washington to commend him for the series. It was the first time he had spoken to any of them in the five years he had been with the Times--this despite indignant mail from scientists and a protracted nationwide critique from fellow journalists and journalism reviews chastising Schneider's shallow sourcing and questionable documentation on several stories.

As a contrast, award-winning science and environmental reporter Richard Severo, four times nominated by the Times for a Pulitzer Prize, was summarily reassigned to the metro desk after his series exposing Du Pont's selective genetic testing of African-American employees. Severo had already aggravated corporate sensibilities with articles on Agent Orange and General Electric's pollution of the Hudson River. Du Pont was the last straw. Severo chose to fight his reassignment, but after seven years in arbitration, he was unable to regain his desk in the science section.

And more recently, science writer Philip Hilts, who has written about eighty stories on tobacco, twenty-five on the front page, was summarily removed from that beat three years ago after one particularly uncomplimentary story about Philip Morris. Hilts, who offered a voice of restraint on topics that Gina Kolata has not, is now at the Boston bureau of the Times.

The word inside the Times is that executive editor Joe Lelyveld has an intense interest in science and badly wants the Times to improve its coverage of matters scientific. And I am told he believes that in a technological culture, science more than any subject needs skeptics--in mass media as well as in the scientific community--of all persuasions.

But Gina Kolata is not a skeptic, at least not in the best sense of the word. She is instead a faithful apologist for corporate science. Even so, if it were only enviros and few disgruntled scientists criticizing Kolata, one could understand the equanimity of Times editors. But when reporters from Business Week, the Wall Street Journal and her alma mater Science magazine question her methods and conclusions, one might expect the paper of record to take notice. "She caused a panic at every cancer clinic in the country," says San Francisco medical journalist Michael Castleman, describing his experience after the cancer drug story broke. But worse for science reporters is the fact that "she has made scientists gun-shy," according to Castleman. "I'm having a hard time getting any of them to talk on the record," he says, adding, "She's a repeat offender. Every time she covers a controversy, scientists wonder whether we all treat sources as she does."

By allowing Kolata to continue reporting as she has, unchallenged by strong counterpoints and a strong editor, the New York Times is compromising its reputation as a balanced and reliable source of science news and commentary. When topics addressed by Times science reporters are literally matters of life and death, readers expect that journalistic practices will be held to the highest standards. Unless priorities change at the Times, the mantle of Walter Sullivan will have to wait for a more worthy heir.

Mark Dowie is at MIT studying the relationship between science and philanthropy. Research support provided by the Investigative Fund of The Nation Institute.

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