I was a bit torn when trying to figure out how to approach this piece. A reader emailed me about an article in the Huffington Post, and there is so much wrong with it that I felt overwhelmed. My solution is to focus on a few of the problems that can help illuminate broader points.
There is a small but vocal movement of people who refuse to believe that skin cancer caused by sunlight is a significant health risk. These people tend to also believe that the risk is being purposely hyped by others, and that our current approach to skin cancer prevention is causing an epidemic of vitamin D deficiency. Leaving aside the seemingly insane denialism regarding sunlight and cancer, there are two broad problems with this article. The first is pretty bad.
With the summer months upon us I wanted to find out firsthand what exactly the mantra is that dermatologists are telling patients. So I went undercover to several San Francisco dermatologists in order to see if there is legitimate concern about the sun-scare media hype. Are these doctors being sensible or going overboard when it comes to advice on sunscreen use and skin cancer prevention? Is the sky falling with dangerous UV rays or are we being induced into a media panic?
He goes on to give links to recorded conversations, and prints out partial transcripts. He does not specify whether or not he received permission to record these conversations, as required by California law. Whether or not the law requires it, the writer should have disclosed to his readers whether or not he had received permission. This information is important in interpreting the conversations he reports to us.
The next problem is broader, and deals with physicians’ willingness to lie on behalf of patients. The author’s presumably-clandestine recordings of his deceptive visits to dermatologists (catching my breath—this is striking and requires a digression. The act of deceiving these doctors is not only unethical, but can influence the outcome of the visit. Doctors make the assumption that most patients are interacting with them out of good faith, and are not intentionally deceiving them.) (more…)