The Toxic World of Martin Shkreli: A Lesson in Science Reporting

Unless you have been unconscious for the last few days, you've probably noticed that the media is currently overrun by news of this huge asshole guy Martin Shkreli purchasing and hiking up the price of an anti-parasitic drug called Daraprim. Ultimately, he and his company Turing Pharmaceuticals backed down in the face of massive public uproar, as did the other asshole guy who just did the same thing with the Tuberculosis medicine Cycloserne. It sucks, and it's stupid, and this clearly should not be allowed. It's a good thing people were paying attention. Imagine what would happen if they weren't? Well, for one thing, we don't have to imagine; people normally don't pay attention to the struggles of the average person attempting to be covered by the health insurance that they pay for, only to be turned down, or left with enormous bills for out-of-pocket costs. Again -- it's a stupid system, and these things shouldn't be allowed to happen in a 21st-century society.

Regardless, there are a few facts that news outlets are passing over, or just getting completely wrong. For one thing, Daraprim is not used to treat AIDS patients. It's used to treat Toxoplasmosis. If an HIV/AIDS patient were to have Toxoplasmosis, then sure, maybe they'd take Daraprim. And yes, that's a pretty common scenario. The issue with AIDS is that it impairs the immune system, so a patient might ultimately contract multiple diseases. Using AIDS in the headlines is really just a way to get more traffic. If you've read my thoughts on journalistic integrity, you probably already know how I feel about this tactic.

Secondly, writers and readers are confusing the term Toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis is a disease, not a parasite. Toxoplasmosis is caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. Interestingly enough, I'm writing a novel wherein T. gondii features heavily. I'm suddenly having doubts that writing about this was such a great idea.

Fortunately, some outlets are beginning to get this right. And most of the traditional media giants are doing enough due diligence to get the facts straight in the first place. Why is this important? Simple. Because most of us get our news from Facebook and other social media sites, where anyone can post anything they want -- regardless of whether they're linking to valuable insight or complete nonsense. It's more important than ever that you don't assume everything you're reading is true. Because literally any random person can write these articles involving complex science and other technical details that they may not understand. I know this, because I am paid to write some of these articles. And I'm much more qualified than some, and not as qualified as others. A great deal of writers aren't paid at all, do it for the credits, and have no qualifications. So, in the face of a disasterously douchey debacle, I say we use this as a learning experience to heighten our awareness of science reporting.


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