Monday, June 20, 2011

Physicians: "a priceless audience at a price you can afford"

Harriet Washington's* new piece in The American Scholar - "Flacking for Big Pharma."

My last post mentioned that Rushkoff's remarks related to this, my next post. Just as we're the thing that's being sold on Facebook, doctors are to an extent the thing that's being sold in medical journals.
The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) bills itself in advertising as “a priceless audience at a price you can afford,” while the Annals boasts: “With an audience of more than 90,000 internists (93 percent of whom are actively practicing physicians), Annals has always been a smart buy.”
Washington goes beyond discussing (extensive) advertising influence to talk about editorial content and the manipulation of research itself, overlapping to some extent with Ben Goldacre and others I've discussed here.

Coincidentally, I came across her piece at the same time I was reading reports from Europe about drug companies pulling out of psychopharmaceutical research. The framing of the articles, including the titles ("Psychopharmacology in crisis," "GSK, Others Pull EU Brain Research Funds; Leaves Science Black Hole,", "'Funding crisis' in brain research," "Research into brain disorders under threat as drug firms pull out"), reflects the extent to which the drug companies' have succeeded in establishing their narrative of effective and necessary drugs similar to those for AIDS in the public consciousness. (Even Rebelión seems to take this line!) The crisis, if the report is correct, is that public funding for basic neuroscience has been sorely lacking in Europe, and this is not developing but ongoing. Virtually every article I've read quotes David Nutt's pro-pharma line (extended patents to make drug development more profitable - of course), with little acknowledgement of his close ties to these companies.**

Sadly but expectedly, out of the woodwork in the comments on the Washington piece have come the opportunists claiming it as antiscience, both those suggesting corporations do pure science and so in criticizing their influence she's attacking science itself and the antivaccine kooks from AoA claiming her article supports their nonsense. Alas, this is the reality into which critical writing about medicine in a vastly unequal and corporate-driven world enters.

*Her Medical Apartheid was excellent:

**This site describes Nutt's industry relations:
Consultancies - Pfizer (W-L), GSK (SKB), MSD, Esteve, Novartis, Asahi, Organon, Cypress, Lilly, Janssen, Takeda, Phamacia, Therasci, Passion for Life, Hythiam, Servier, Roche, Sanofi Aventis, Actelion, Lundbeck, Wyeth.

Speaking honoraria (in addition to above) Reckitt-Benkiser, Cephalon.

Grants or clinical trial payments: MSD, GSK, Novartis, Servier, Janssen, Yamanouchi, Lundbeck, Pfizer, Wyeth, Organon, AZ, Cephalon, P1vital, MoDefence, NHS - Dr Nutt holds shares in GSK (ex-Wellcome)
It looks like information originally gleaned from Nutt's or his center's page that's since been removed, but I don't have confirmation of anything other than the GSK relationship and don't know enough about the site to accept it fully.

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