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Healthy Skepticism Library item: 18317

Warning: This library includes all items relevant to health product marketing that we are aware of regardless of quality. Often we do not agree with all or part of the contents.


Publication type: news

Shepherd T
Alarm at growing medical 'spin'
The Advertiser 2010 July 5

Full text:

DOCTORS are losing faith in medical literature as pharmaceutical companies undermine the integrity of trials, an Adelaide doctor says.

Dr Peter Parry, a psychiatrist and senior lecturer at Flinders University, says trial sponsors use suppression and spinning of negative data to sell their products and that leads to doctors unknowingly making the wrong prescribing choices.

He says poor results are hidden, while positive results are “cherry picked”. Articles are often written by marketing-driven ghostwriters.

Another tactic is “disease mongering” to expand the “recognised boundaries of a disease … in order to increase prescriptions and sales”.

Dr Parry, a member of the Adelaide-based international group Healthy Skepticism, voices his concerns in the latest edition of the journal Bioethical Inquiry.
“The industry and its associated medical communication firms state that publications in the medical literature primarily serve marketing interests,” he says.

“Suppression and spinning of negative data and ghostwriting have emerged as tools to help manage medical journal publications to best suit product sales, while disease mongering and market segmentation of physicians are also used to efficiently maximise profits.”

Dr Parry says there is now a “crisis of trust”, with doctors losing confidence in the information they should be able to rely on.

“It makes me very cautious around prescribing these days,” he says.

He says there is an urgent need for stricter policing of trials and more transparency around what they find.

The article emphasises that the tactics are not unique to any company, but are “quite plainly widespread”.

A US Senate Finance Committee report released earlier this year was the latest in a string of publications critical of so-called Big Pharma.


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Far too large a section of the treatment of disease is to-day controlled by the big manufacturing pharmacists, who have enslaved us in a plausible pseudo-science...
The blind faith which some men have in medicines illustrates too often the greatest of all human capacities - the capacity for self deception...
Some one will say, Is this all your science has to tell us? Is this the outcome of decades of good clinical work, of patient study of the disease, of anxious trial in such good faith of so many drugs? Give us back the childlike trust of the fathers in antimony and in the lancet rather than this cold nihilism. Not at all! Let us accept the truth, however unpleasant it may be, and with the death rate staring us in the face, let us not be deceived with vain fancies...
we need a stern, iconoclastic spirit which leads, not to nihilism, but to an active skepticism - not the passive skepticism, born of despair, but the active skepticism born of a knowledge that recognizes its limitations and knows full well that only in this attitude of mind can true progress be made.
- William Osler 1909