Inciting Oppositional Forces
Hwang Woo-suk the South Korean scientist who claimed to have extracted stem cells from cloned embryos is now a by-word for fraudulent research. And yet he made his name in animal cloning research. What went wrong?
The news of the prosecution of Hwang Woo-suk for fraudulent misuse of funds after he
misled the media and fellow medical researchers is a great step forward for the tainted reputations of "Big Pharma" and medical research.
Why, you ask?
This would seem to be rather bad news for an industry that has the massed forces of the US Government and public opinion massively ranged against it at present in the media.
To answer the question, I have to go back to my summer holiday reading. "Bad Science" is the name of both a book and a blog. Authored by Ben Goldacre, a practicing doctor in the UK's National Health Service. As a junior doctor in 2002 he started writing a blog about how science was being mis-represented, mis-used and mis-understood in the media. He called this the Bad Science Blog and it gained him a weekly column in the national print newspaper, the Guardian.
‘Miracle’ Cure for Dyslexia?
In this he famously exposed the reality of the hours junior doctors have to work and made us laugh at the ‘miracle cure’ for dyslexia, Matthias Rath’s claims for vitamins to cure AIDS for sufferers in South African townships and the problems with the pharma industry.
Ben has a clear thesis to his book (and it is worth buying because he writes fluently and the footnotes are a worthy diversion) is that the media has 'dumbed down' scientific reporting and the general public is not sufficiently educated in scientific method to assess whether what the media prints is true, half true or not true.
Ben is strongly in favour of rigorous research methodology, critical statistical interpretation and experimental reliability.
Of course, pharma marketing is also on his roll-call of sometime-bad-players in the industry. Let me quote you some extracts.
page 94 "Medics and academics are very wary of people making claims on such tenuous grounds, because it's something you get a lot from people with something to sell: specifically, drug companies. The public don't generally have to deal with drug-company propaganda, because the companies are not currently allowed to talk to patients in Europe - thankfully - but they badger doctors incessantly, and they use many of the same tricks as the miracle-cure industries. You're taught about these tricks at medical school, which is how I'm able to teach you about them now.”
Here are the main tricks of the trade he cites:
- promote the theoretical advantages
- promote animal experiment data or 'surrogate outcomes'
- cherry picking research publications and scientists to quote
- the lobbying power of the industry
- creating 'manufactured doubt' in the consumer's mind
Now that's a pretty powerful list. More than enough to set the industry on the 'naughty step' for a long while.
And so the question I would like to ask is this. What will happen if we clean up our act?
This blog has been researching and suggesting possible changes that the pharmaceutical industry may want to consider because we are firmly in the "Make Major Changes" camp in this argument.
Where do you stand?
(Tomorrow's Post: Pharma's Share)