Shah, Sonia 1969-

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Shah, Sonia 1969-


Born 1969, in New York, NY; daughter of physicians; partner of Mark Bulmer (a molecular ecologist); children: Zakir, Kush (sons). Education: Oberlin College, B.A.


E-mail—[email protected].


Freelance journalist. Nuclear Times, former managing editor. Lecturer at universities and colleges throughout the United States; guest on television programs and networks. Writing fellow at the Nation institute and for the Puffing Foundation.


(Editor) Between Fear and Hope: A Decade of Peace Activism, Fortkamp Publishing (Baltimore, MD), 1992.

Dragon Ladies: Asian American Feminists Breathe Fire, South End Press (Boston, MA), 1997.

Crude: The Story of Oil, Seven Stories Press (New York, NY), 2004.

The Body Hunters: Testing New Drugs on the World's Poorest Patients, New Press (New York, NY), 2006.

Contributor to periodicals, including Washington Post, Boston Globe, New Scientist, Playboy, Orion, Progressive, and the Nation, and to the Web site


Sonia Shah is an investigative journalist whose work has appeared in prominent magazines and newspapers in the United States. The daughter of Indian immigrants, she spent her early years in two distinct worlds: the northeastern United States, where her parents practiced medicine, and in Mumbai and Bangalore, India, where her working-class relatives lived. This dual atmosphere helped her develop "a life-long interest in inequality between and within societies," according to the author's Web site.

Shah explores the often harmful effects of this real-world cultural and economic divide in The Body Hunters: Testing New Drugs on the World's Poorest Patients. Shah clashes with large, multinational pharmaceutical companies, looking closely at their programs for finding test subjects for new drugs and treatments among the poorest countries of the world. She "explores the ethical issues involved and makes the case that the system is essentially exploitative," observed Elizabeth Williams in Library Journal. "This is a painstakingly researched exposé. Shah is a skilful guide, presenting quite convoluted events and the science involved with a storyteller's craft," commented New Internationalist reviewer Dinyar Godrej.

Among the abuses identified by Shah in The Body Hunters are the lack of informed consent, particularly among individuals too separated by language or culture to fully understand the nature of the programs in which they are participating; poor oversight of experimental trials by regulatory bodies; and unethical and sometimes illegal "payment" to volunteer participants in the form of food or other considerations in lieu of money. Shah is particularly incensed by situations in which placebo control trials are used, especially when those trials result in certain percentages of participants receiving no treatment at all for conditions that could be potentially debilitating or life threatening. She notes how doctors and hospitals are often lured to comply through gifts of cash or equipment. Shah looks at some of the grimmest aspects of pharmaceutical trials in impoverished countries, including the fact that drug companies specifically seek out places that will provide a high death rate that will translate into meaningful statistics. Ironically, many of the drugs being tested are not intended to alleviate disease or suffering in the test populations, but are usually directed at more affluent populations in wealthier industrialized countries that can afford to pay for the expensive drugs and treatments.

"Meticulously researched and packed with documentary evidence, Shah's tautly argued study will provoke much needed public debate" on the subject, concluded a Publishers Weekly critic. "Shah has a good story to tell. And like any competent journalist, she tells it well, with three-dimensional characters that stand out from the page, and a narrative style that carries her argument along at a brisk pace," remarked Lancet reviewer David Dickson. In the end, Shah wants her readers to consider the ethics and morality of using "humans for medical and scientific experiments," reported Donna Chavez in Booklist.



Afterimage, January 1, 1998, review of Dragon Ladies: Asian American Feminists Breathe Fire, p. 22.

Amerasia Journal, summer, 2002, Nadia Y. Kim, review of Dragon Ladies, p. 252.

American Prospect, April 1, 2007, Carl Elliott, "We'll Test It on Them," review of The Body Hunters: Testing New Drugs on the World's Poorest Patients, p. 50.

Booklist, July 1, 2006, Donna Chavez, review of The Body Hunters, p. 15.

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, June, 1993, Steve Breyman, review of Between Fear and Hope: A Decade of Peace Activism, p. 52.

Ecologist, April 1, 2005, Simon Jones, review of Crude: The Story of Oil, p. 65; October 1, 2006, Hermione Bosanquet, review of Crude, p. 65.

JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, November 1, 2006, Thomas A. Faunce, "Drugs, Developing World," review of The Body Hunters, p. 2149.

Lancet, November 18, 2006, David Dickson, "Calling into Question Clinical Trials in Developing Countries," review of The Body Hunters, p. 1761.

Library Journal, June 15, 2006, Elizabeth Williams, review of The Body Hunters, p. 98.

Ms., March 1, 1998, Hema Nair, review of Dragon Ladies, p. 80.

New England Journal of Medicine, December 7, 2006, Jeremy Sugarman, review of The Body Hunters, p. 2496.

New Internationalist, December, 2006, Dinyar Godrej, review of The Body Hunters, p. 27.

Publishers Weekly, May 1, 2006, review of The Body Hunters, p. 45.

SciTech Book News, December 1, 2004, review of Crude, p. 162.

Signs, January 1, 2001, Caroline Chung Simpson, review of Dragon Ladies, p. 555.

Washington Post Book World, August 27, 2006, Tom Graham, review of The Body Hunters, p. 13.

ONLINE, (June 24, 2007), Eve Vincent, review of Crude.

Sonia Shah Home Page, (June 24, 2007)., (June 24, 2007), "Freelance Journalism Takes on Corporate Power," profile of Sonia Shah.