Remember the tchotchke-cluttered doctors offices of old (i.e. a couple of years ago), with their Vioxx mugs, Viagra pens, stacked Xanax pads, and Lipitor key rings? Drug companies used to lavish doctors with all manner of branded trinkets in hopes they’d prescribe their products, but the whiff of corruption became too strong – was your doctor recommending Xenium on its merits as a gastrointestinal treatment, worried the ethics-minded, or in order to keep the Post-its coming? – and in 2008 they zipped up the goodie bag. Good for Big Pharma! Except that now “the $310 billion pharmaceutical industry quietly buys something far more influential,” writes Harriet Washington in The American Scholar. That something would be “the contents of medical journals and, all too often, the trajectory of medical research itself,” she says. For one thing, journals are chock full of (often inaccurate) pharmaceutical advertising; advertisers shape editorial decisions; staff get buttered up by way of junkets and well-paid speaking engagements for editorial staff; and drug companies have perfected an array of strategies for using clinical trials to “tart up drugs that are poorly performing, dangerous, or both.” All of which leads one medical expert, the former editor of the British Medical Journal to complain, “All journals are bought – or at least cleverly used – by the pharmaceutical industry.” Another calls the contents of most journals “little better than infomercials.” If this is the tradeoff, can we go back to the Viagra pens, please?
• ‘Flacking for Big Pharma’ [The American Scholar]