LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

The Baltimore Sun

Conflicts concern many doctors

The National Physicians Alliance strongly agrees with the sentiments expressed in The Sun's editorial that addresses the Merck ghostwriting scandal ("Medical ghosts," April 20).

The pharmaceutical industry's marketing interests have indeed infiltrated virtually all areas of medicine, from research to education to daily practice.

Even medical students - who are years away from having the power to prescribe drugs - are often the targets of promotional gifting and free meals.

The National Physicians Alliance was founded in 2005 by former leaders of the American Medical Student Association with a mission to restore the profession to one of service, integrity and advocacy.

The NPA recently launched the Unbranded Doctor Campaign, which encourages all doctors to refuse the pressures and inducements of drug marketers.

In short, the concerns The Sun raised are shared by many more than "a small number of prominent doctors."

There are thousands of us.

Jean Silver-Isenstadt, Reston, Va.

The writer is executive director of the National Physicians Alliance.

Full disclosure key to real credibility

Ghostwriting, as it is described in The Sun's article "Research ghostwriting common, insiders say" (April 18), as a process in which researchers merely contribute their names to manuscripts that have been written by others, is wrong.

But it is also wrong to assume, as some people seem to do, that the mere act of being a medical writer is unethical.

There are thousands of professional medical writers who work with researchers as they develop their ideas, and we expect our contributions to be acknowledged appropriately in the final documents.

The biggest issue here is transparency: Current journal guidelines do not go far enough to make sure that all the genuine participants in a manuscript are recognized, never mind mentioning where everybody's funding might be coming from.

All the contributors to a medical article need to be acknowledged, from the lead researchers to the supporting team of statisticians, writers, editors and graphic designers.

Only then can their potential conflicts of interest be identified so that readers can evaluate for themselves the motivations of each contributor and each funding source.

Lili Fox V?lez, Baltimore

The writer teaches biomedical writing in the English department at Towson University.

Do teachers need combat training?

Teachers are being taught the wrong things ("Dixon, Alonso host school safety session for 300 teachers," April 22).

They are learning about their subject field and about how to prepare a lesson plan, things that were important for teachers dealing with earlier generations of students.

But much of their efforts today will be in what's called "classroom management" - that is, how to survive in a contemporary classroom.

The training should be more like what is taught to airborne troops - focusing on how to survive when you're surrounded, outgunned and cannot expect any support.

J. Martin, Baltimore

The writer is a former teacher in the Baltimore County schools.

A failure to feed may be more costly

Saying that the "U.S. can't afford to feed the world" (letters, April 22), as the writer of a recent letter does, is akin to someone saying, "I can't afford preventive health care," or "I can't afford regular car maintenance."

That person may save money in the short term but is likely to face dire consequences in the long term.

Similarly, saying that the real problem is overpopulation in the developing world, in addition to blaming the victim, also ignores the fact that, historically, one of the best ways to reduce a country's birth rate is to improve economic development and increase education.

This means not simply educating people about birth control and family planning but also improving their general education level.

People who have more opportunities tend to have fewer children.

And terrorism, illegal immigration and environmental degradation are all exacerbated by increases in hunger.

One needs to look no further than the food riots in Haiti, Mozambique, Bangladesh and Egypt, among other places, to see the impact food shortages can have.

As tempting as it is to fall into an "us vs. them" way of thinking, and to focus solely on the needs of people at home, it's important to remember that we are all part of the same world.

What happens to one affects others.

The question really isn't whether we can afford to help reduce world hunger. It's whether we can afford not to.

John Monahan, Baltimore

Unattractive hotel ruins city's skyline

To quote Sun architecture critic Edward Gunts, "Would Oriole Park have been better off had the hotel property not been developed? Possibly. Was that ever really an option? No" ("Going, going, gone," April 21).

No? What nonsense.

The Robert Johnson-led "Believe" team put forth an excellent convention hotel proposal that would have added a far taller and more attractive contribution to the skyline on the other side of the convention center on Conway Street. This would have left the parking lot parcel across from Camden Yards to be developed as a replacement site for the aging 1st Mariner Arena, creating the third in a string of sports/entertainment venues in that area without blocking anyone's view in the process. This plan then would have opened up current arena's critical west-side site for future development on a site that is begging for yet another high-rise, high-profile building.

So there's no reason to claim that this project was inevitable.

As for the members of the Baltimore Development Corp., well, they are so short-sighted that they probably can't even make out the hulking monolith that is the Hilton and that will forever be an obtrusive stain on the view from Camden Yards.

Scott Murphy-Neilson, Herndon, Va.

Rather than comment on the hideous 1960s hospital-esque design of the new downtown Hilton that sterilizes its neighborhood and largely ruins Camden Yards' desired cityscape effect, Edward Gunts meekly concluded that the property had to be built, and that it blocks some views.

He scattered in a few quotes that added little to the piece and briefly mentioned a critique by a Washington Post sportswriter. But the local architecture critic apparently could not be bothered to critique the design of the hotel building itself. After attending my first Orioles game of the season last Sunday, I left the game hoping Mr. Gunts would use his considerable local platform to draw attention to this glaring eyesore for Baltimore and the issues surrounding its creation.

With his non-critique critique, Mr. Gunts - and his paper - have failed their readers.

James Yolles, Baltimore

I understand that the city needs to develop and add amenities. But why exactly must those changes so often come at the expense of aesthetics?

The latest example of such an "improvement" is the conference hotel near Camden Yards. That building is one big dense block, which is devoid, so far as I can see, of any real design.

It blocks the view of the city from the stadium - which is bad enough. But it doesn't add anything either.

Are we supposed to be inspired by the bloated massiveness of the design, the sameness of the windows, the metal casing on the building?

Isn't anyone in charge of how the city is evolving aesthetically?

Mary Toth, Baltimore

The fact that the spectators' views north from Oriole Park at Camden Yards will be partially obstructed by the soon-to-be completed Hilton is bad enough.

But how can a distinguished architectural firm be allowed to "design" a monotonous structure featuring row upon row of rectangular apertures?

The Hilton simply adds another unexciting building to the city, like just about every other recent addition to the Baltimore skyline - with the exception of the convention center itself.

I hope future conventioneers will appreciate the convention center's progressive design during the daylight hours and ignore the banal, box-like hotel structure they may be entering at night.

Bennard Perlman, Pikesville

The writer is a former member of Baltimore's Civic Design Commission.

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