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Drug Company Disguised Advertising As Science 172

ananyo writes "A former pharmaceutical company employee has blown the whistle on drug promotion disguised as science. Drug companies occasionally conduct post-marketing studies to collect data on the safety and efficacy of drugs in the real world, after they've been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 'However,' writes the anonymous author in an editorial in the British Medical Journal (subscription required), 'some of the [post-marketing] studies I worked on were not designed to determine the overall risk:benefit balance of the drug in the general population. They were designed to support and disseminate a marketing message.' According to the whistleblower, the results of these studies were often dubious. 'We occasionally resorted to "playing" with the data that had originally failed to show the expected result,' he says. 'This was done by altering the statistical method until any statistical significance was found.' He adds that the company sometimes omitted negative results and played down harmful side effects. Nature says it was unable to work out who the writer was but they likely worked on diabetes and the studies criticized were from the Denmark-based pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk."
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Drug Company Disguised Advertising As Science

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  • zzzz (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MickyTheIdiot ( 1032226 ) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @12:35PM (#40310611) Homepage Journal

    Perhaps if big Pharma was actually honest that would merit a story.


  • Big Surprise (Score:4, Insightful)

    by redrew89 ( 2636451 ) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @12:38PM (#40310665)
    Pharmacutical companies, especially in the US, are constantly making dubious claims, and marketing products that, occasionally, provide more suffering in the form of side-effects, than the disease they are designed to treat. It's generally accepted that these companies are genuinely apathetic to the medical issues, and simply do anything they can to maximize profit. Next, you'll be telling me that the firearms industry deliberately pressures governments into military action.
  • Everyone does this (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @12:41PM (#40310703)

    This was done by altering the statistical method until any statistical significance was found

    I'm convinced that backing into a conclusion by playing with analysis is the raison d'être of most white collar work in the Western world. Using 'risk' models to rationalize market positions enables arbitrary use of capital by so-called banks. Economic and climate analysis pretty much boil down to teasing out curves that fit the preconceived policies of various statists.

    Not surprising that multi-billion dollar drug companies.leverage the same tools. Monkey see monkey do.

  • by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @12:47PM (#40310811) Homepage

    George Carlin said it best:

    Cuz ya do know folks, Ya do know, livng in this country you know, that every time you're exposed to advertising you realize once again that America's leading industry, America's most profitable business is still the manufacturing, packaging, distribution, and marketing of BULLSHIT. High quality, Grade A, Prime cut, Pure American BULLSHIT.

    And the sad part is, Most people seem indoctorinated to believe that bullshit only comes from certain places, certain sources. Advertising, politics, salesmen, not true. Bullshit is everywhere, bullshit is rampant. Parents are full of shit, teachers are full of shit, clergymen are full of shit, and law enforcment people are full of shit, this entire country is completely full of shit, and always has been, from the Declaration of Independance, to the Constitution, to the Star Spangled Banner, it's really nothing more than one BIG steaming pile of red white and blue all Americian BULLSHIT.

  • by boristdog ( 133725 ) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @12:48PM (#40310823)

    This was done by altering the statistical method until any statistical significance was found

    I'm convinced that backing into a conclusion by playing with analysis is the raison d'être of most white collar work in the Western world.

    I thought that's how we were taught to do labs back in all my science classes.

  • Duh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @12:51PM (#40310871) Journal

    This is what happens in for-profit research. And for that matter, if you need results to get the next grant, then you're effectively doing for-profit research. The whole practice of science, private and public is essentially profit driven. Until we start rewarding scientists for negative results as well as we do positive results, we're going to see a lot of faulty positive data published. This is why most major published results in cancer science can't be replicated, for instance.

  • by amoeba1911 ( 978485 ) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @12:57PM (#40310951) Homepage

    The whole point of the field of statistics is to keep changing your models until you find one that shows the result you want. Why else do you think there are more than a dozen different normalization tests?

  • by STRICQ ( 634164 ) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @01:05PM (#40311079)
    Sounds exactly like what climate scientists do in order to find a signal for man-made global warming in the vast pool of noise that is natural climate variability.
  • Re:zzzz (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ohnocitizen ( 1951674 ) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @01:13PM (#40311229)
    It is worth a story for the following reasons: 1. Our attention span is incredibly short. 2. No one would claim a serial killer's latest crime wasn't a story for the mere reason it was expected. 3. Our attention span is incredibly short.
  • by MickyTheIdiot ( 1032226 ) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @01:18PM (#40311315) Homepage Journal

    Because the only healthy response to our world right now is to laugh at it.

  • Re:Big Surprise (Score:4, Insightful)

    by shentino ( 1139071 ) <shentino@gmail.com> on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @01:37PM (#40311621)

    Just because it's the status quo doesn't make it right.

    Apathy is what allows this crap to continue.

  • by shentino ( 1139071 ) <shentino@gmail.com> on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @01:41PM (#40311677)

    You can't play the game unless you're rich enough to begin with to buy politicians off.

    Because the moment you step on the field you are a target and the elite have the referees on their own payroll.

  • Re:zzzz (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Stem_Cell_Brad ( 1847248 ) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @01:59PM (#40311947)
    I do not wish to defend the whole Division in Big Pharma companies set up to perpetuate bullshit. This is harmful and infuriating. But, do not throw out the baby with the bathwater. You know what actually makes Big Pharma A LOT of money - drugs that work. Anyone who has taken an antibiotic or Viagra will probably agree. So, the lying bullshit is not the only thing Big Pharma does. Please do not simply condemn medical research and call it all a fraud because of the influence of business/advertising on pharmaceutical companies.
  • by neurophil12 ( 1054552 ) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @02:01PM (#40311979)
    It's hard to tell when someone is just expressing a cynical sentiment and when someone is being completely serious. I do take issue though when people suggest that statistics are lies, largely because I think many people get to thinking that all statistics are meaningless. Statistics are meaningful when properly applied. Statistics are complicated and there are many models because the world is complicated. Different tests are better in different situations, depending on for instance how much you want to trade off power (the likelihood of detecting a real effect) for precision (avoiding false positives), whether you have a large or small sample size, or whether you think there might be interactions between variables. Now it might be the case that someone isn't sure which test to use. Assuming they can't figure out the answer, they can run multiple tests, but if they do then they should control for that by adjusting the p-values of each test accordingly. Ultimately though scientists are human, and they will have competing interests to be honest and to cheat. The key is the process, including forms of peer review, and hopefully some day a venue for publishing negative results, such that there is less pressure to cheat. Profit will always push the needle the other direction though.
  • Re:zzzz (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Reverand Dave ( 1959652 ) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @02:46PM (#40312539)
    The advertising/business influence are the parts of big pharma that are so corrupt. Those are the wings that claim they need so much money for R&D but then consistently have advertising budgets and executive compensation that is 2-3x their R&D Budgets. They are also the wings that fight so hard to keep a profitable drugs like viagra or prilosec out of the hands of generic manufacturers so they can be affordable when people really need them. They are also the wings that fight to have their congress critters go after foreign manufacturers for trying to make affordable AIDS drugs for the people that really need it and really can't pay for it. Yes, big pharma does do some good, but it's not like their altruistic in their motives. The scientists that actually do the research might be, but not the parts of the company that make it big pharma to begin with.
  • Re:zzzz (Score:3, Insightful)

    by FingerDemon ( 638040 ) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @02:55PM (#40312645) Journal
    If some are condemning their research as fraud, they bring it on themselves by including marketing expenses in their research budgets in order to justify higher prices for consumers in the countries (like the U.S.) where they can get away with it. News reports I have seen in the past few years indicate they are making record profits. That certainly isn't because they have come up with much better antibiotics. It is because they advertise heavily until people bug their doctors for a prescription. That said, there are certainly wonderful advances and I'm sure good and decent scientists working for all the right reasons in those firms. I just doubt sincerely that they are in control.
  • Re:zzzz (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Stem_Cell_Brad ( 1847248 ) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @03:13PM (#40312835)
    Agreed. I don't know, but I am guessing that big pharma was not always like this, i.e evilly pimping weak drugs for their profits. It certainly does not need to be like this. Congress critters need to grow a pair and enact laws that make the advertising/business bullshit division of big pharma not very profitable. I'm sure that could be done while helping the companies better deal with financial risks of research.
  • Re:zzzz (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Luckyo ( 1726890 ) on Wednesday June 13, 2012 @03:52PM (#40313493)

    The problem is that a lot of drugs that work TOO WELL do not in fact make money. Take a look at vaccines for example. You need one shot every ten years for most standard vaccines. They have extremely high success chance. And they're not making any meaningful money, because they are simply not needed that often.

    On the other hand, psychotropic drugs that are designed to combat depression? Shitty success rate in comparison, but profit leaders.

Each honest calling, each walk of life, has its own elite, its own aristocracy based on excellence of performance. -- James Bryant Conant