Sep 26, 2009

Doctor? No.

On June 9, the Register ran a rather uncritical feature story about a "self-described natural medicine doctor" who claimed he could cure cancer, AIDS and heart disease with his special brand of vitamin supplements.

The story quoted a UC Irvine oncologist who indirectly challenged one of the self-described doctor's claims about cancer treatments and ran a chart that implied the self-described doctor, Daryn Wayne Peterson, was overcharging his patients for what he claimed to be medication. (The story also included a slide show for some reason.)

The paper stopped short of challenging Peterson's ethics and qualifications, and it didn't directly test the veracity of his claims. But didn't it have a responsibility to do so if it was going to write about him in the first place? After all, Peterson did more than say he could do incredible things (without ever offering proof). He advised people to drop their health insurance and sign up with his plan. He told people with potentially terminal diseases they should stop using approved medicines in favor of his overpriced vitamins. He got a degree from what appears to be an unaccredited university that a quick Google search shows has a shady reputation. The story didn't say whether he has a medical license. He didn't.

On Thursday, the Register reported that Peterson, 37, had been arrested and charged with "unauthorized practice of medicine, operating an HMO without a license, treating cancer without a license, and offering an unapproved drug for cancer treatment." The story, which was written by the same reporter, says law enforcement caught Peterson in a sting operation launched after authorities read the June 9 story.

The Los Angeles Times also reported Peterson's arrest. The Times piece includes some information the Register left out:
The district attorney's office alleges that some of the patients featured in the Register article who spoke favorably of Peterson were either friends or relatives; and that those relations were not disclosed in the original article. Prosecutors said it was irresponsible for the paper to publish an article that did not contain that information.

"It gives a forum for snake oil salesmen to put out outrageous claims that they are curing AIDS and cancer with vitamin supplements," said Susan Kang Schroeder, a district attorney's spokeswoman.
The Times asked for and got a response from the Register:
Rebecca Allen, deputy features editor for the Register, said the reporter made "an effort to be fair and explore why people would go to such a doctor."

She said the reporter received a call after the article ran, saying one of the clients interviewed for the article was Peterson's sister. The reporter investigated the tip, but was not able to prove it. She also said the article included comments from other experts who disagreed with Peterson.
As one of the people in the June 9 feature said, "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Check out the credential of the person making the claim."

No comments: