The Road Back from Dartmouth Deception Will Be Difficult, but We Must Now Begin

Reed Abelson and Gardiner Harris, whose previous NY Times article characterized the Dartmouth Atlas as “shaky,” have responded to the rebuttal of their work by Dartmouth researchers, Elliott Fisher and Jonathan Skinner. Carefully and deliberately, they have shown how the Dartmouth team has pursued a consistent pattern of exaggeration and fabrication. It is this same pattern of deception that I described in papers in Health Affairs here and here, in the Washington Post, in letters to Congress here and here and in blog postings here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and more.  I pointed out that “The 30% Solution is a Treacherous Prescription for Health Care Reform.”

Over the past 18 months, I have referred to the Dartmouth group’s pattern of deception as “Dartmouth doubletalk,”  “twisted truths,” “malarkey” and “voodoo statistics.” It should never have reached this point. In a letter to John Wennberg three years ago citing several such examples, I said, “I can find no way to characterize these statements as anything other than a deceptive misrepresentation of the data and intentional perversion of the truth. I don’t think it’s worth having them contaminate the enormous body of important work that has flowed from your enterprise. It would be so much better if you and your colleagues would rectify the misconceptions that have been created.” He chose not to, and his colleagues chose to progressively elevate the level of deception. I proceeded to publish the facts as I saw them, and now the New York Times has done the same.

Sadly, the Dartmouth Atlas and its misrepresentations by Dartmouth researchers have misled health care reform. Saddest of all, they have diverted attention from the policy needs that exist because of the high health care costs of poverty. The road back to truth and coherent policy will be long and difficult, but we must now begin.

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