Some journalists (and quite possibly some academics too) might not appreciate this suggestion, but every now and then I come across an academic publication and think, “what a wonderful piece of journalism”. And I mean that in the nicest possible way.

The best of journalistic practice – a willingness to challenge accepted wisdoms, to investigate where others fear to tread, and to be motivated on behalf of public interest – are also seen in the best of academic practice. We may have different methodologies and different ways and means of telling stories, but we also have some things in common.

So I must admit to suffering a pang of journalistic envy some months back when I saw that University of WA researchers had had the bright idea of surveying public health researchers about government suppression of research findings. Damn it, I wished I’d thought of doing that.

And I had another such moment this week, reading an investigation by Lesley Russell, Anne-marie Boxall and Steve Leeder in the latest Medical Journal of Australia. Their bright idea was to attempt to document the nature and role of the plethora of advisory groups in the federal health arena.

The short answer is that ten have been appointed by the Rudd Govt (some with overlapping roles), but that there are probably more than 100 in existence altogether. The long answer is that the whole area is messier than a Barry Jones diagram. Duplication, lack of transparency, confusion, and wasteful are a few of the words that spring to mind.

The authors suggest some sensible, straightforward fixes, including listing the details of all such groups on the department’s website. Apart from anything, the article provides a useful resource for journalists wanting to track progress of health policy at a critical time.

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