Slate retracts essay on whether doctors are biased against obese people

slate-magazineSlate has retracted an essay they published as part of a partnership with Quora, an online question-and-answer site, after acknowledging that they “did not vet the piece properly.”

The piece garnered hundreds of comments, many of which questioned whether its claims were legit, and some of which pointed out that the author may have posted questionable material on the web before.

This now appears where the article, originally published at 5:01 p.m. on Thursday, July 25, originally did:

Editor’s note: On July 25, Slate published in this space an essay from its partner site Quora titled “Are Doctors Biased Against Obese People?” Because the piece did not meet our editorial standards, we have taken it down.

On Friday at 6:09 p.m., brandchannel started a post about the article with a quote from the piece:

When I was pregnant, one OB called me disgusting and told me to have an abortion.

brandchannel doesn’t mention the retraction, which Slate tells us happened Friday night, just over 24 hours after it as originally posted. But brandchannel anticipated that move, including the entire Slate-Quora piece saved for posterity, and explains the partnership:

To expand its content offerings, Slate partnered with Quora, a member-driven wiki service launched in 2010 that answers questions and also, in its expanded form, serves as a kind of social network. The idea is that Quora provides answers to questions from experts, and these answers are vetted by the community. With more people everyday searching online for answers, the partnership—formed in March 2012—seemed like a perfect match. A smart news site with a smart answer engine. And things seemed great at first, with a former White House Director for Space Policy answering the question, “What Is George W. Bush Really Like in One-on-One Conversation?”

Slate sent us this statement:

We ran “Are Doctors Biased Against Obese People?” as a part of our partnership with Quora. We did not vet the piece properly before posting it, which was a mistake. The essay did not meet our editorial standards, so we have taken it down.

We have published many great articles that originated on Quora and are very glad to continue our partnership.

The brandchannel post points out that claims about doctors’ biases against obese patients may have some basis in fact:

In May, The New York Timesnoted that a new Johns Hopkins study found that “Doctors seemed just a bit nicer to their normal-weight patients, showing more empathy and warmth in their conversations.” The piece even quotes Yale-Griffin University Prevention Research Center Director Dr. David L. Katz admitting that “doctors often show the same biases and prejudices as the culture at large.”

The problem is that the Slate-Quora piece was not authored by Dr. Katz (or even the Times report author Tara Parker-Pope.) In fact, the answer makes no mention of the study at all and instead puts forward the purported experiences of an unknown, all under the endorsement of the brand name, a name that carries with it two National Magazine Awards.

Last year, Slate retracted a story about bioethicist Glenn McGee after lawyers representing McGee threatened to sue. And in a well-publicized 2007 retraction, they withdrew a story about monkeyfishing.

Hat tip: Norman Bauman

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