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Healthy Skepticism Library item: 14356

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: Journal Article

Martell J.
Buy me, I’ll change your life
Student BMJ 2008 Oct; 16:(350):10


Drug companies and their advertising agencies understand that doctors are not so different from their patients. Both are subject to the fears and fantasies that drive all of us; both are consumers, paying not only for the drugs but also for the emotionally charged meanings attached to them through advertising. Although doctors have a tendency to downplay their susceptibility to the wiles of the adman, evidence suggests that advertisements in medical journals affect them more than they would like to believe.1

One element of this privileged channel of communication between drug companies and doctors is the powerful visual and linguistic imagery of the advertisement.2 These images are used to appeal to unconscious desires within us all. It is a rhetorical form of persuasion, at odds with the rigour of rational argument demanded of evidence based medicine. To improve medical decision making, doctors need to start by acknowledging their vulnerability to the powers of persuasion of the advertising industry.3 From this might grow the desire to educate the profession as to how to look at advertising more critically to make prescription more rational and, in doing so, improve patient care…


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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