Data Manipulation – Gosh Really


Now that Ben Goldacre’s book Bad Pharma has come out, exposing the fact that much medical research is controlled by, and manipulated by, the pharmaceutical industry, I thought I should revisit a short article I wrote six years ago:


Gosh, Really, You Don’t Say:

Sometimes you read something of such blinding obviousness (if that is actually a word), that you wonder why anyone even bothered writing it at all. You know the sort of thing – ‘constant criticism of children does not lead to a sense of self-worth.’ ‘A centralized command economy does not create wealth for citizens.’

But the blindingly obvious can be critically important depending on who says it. I can bang on and on about the fact that medical journals have basically turned themselves into advertorials for the pharmaceutical industry, and be readily dismissed as a fringe lunatic.

However when Richard Smith, editor of the British Medical Journal (BMJ) for many years who resigned last year, says it, then it would seem that even the cosy ‘establishment’ may be starting to feel the first cold fingers of doubt creeping in. Perhaps things really have started to go too far. So read and enjoy a short section from an article in the BMJ, 21st May 2005.

Medical journals are no more than ‘an extension of the marketing arm of pharmaceutical companies’ because a large proportion of their revenue comes from drug advertisements and reprints of company funded trials, claims former BMJ editor, Richard Smith.

“Dr. Smith argues that although medical journals make a sizeable income from drug advertisements this is the least of their ‘corrupting form of dependence’ on the industry, since the advertisements are ‘there for all to see and criticize’.

“Dr Smith’s strongest criticism is levelled at the fact that journals publish clinical trials that are funded by the industry. Unlike advertisements, trials are seen by readers as the highest form of evidence, he says. Trials funded by drug companies rarely produce unfavourable results and make up between two thirds and three quarters of the trials published in key journals.

“The potential profits from reprints of such a trial can run to $1m (£0.5m; €0.8m), says Dr Smith. And it is this potential income that can have the biggest corrupting influence on a journal because many editors are charged with ensuring their journal makes a profit.

“Editors may be confronted by ‘a frighteningly stark conflict of interest’, writes Dr Smith They may be forced to choose between publishing a trial that will bring $100,000 of profit or meet their end of year budget by making a member of staff redundant.”


Will this article in the BMJ change anything?….. You have GOT to be joking……

And you know what changed in the last six years. You got it. Nothing.

4 thoughts on “Data Manipulation – Gosh Really

  1. mark8631

    As A bit of a mainstream medical critic myself, I’m about two thirds way through Malcolm kendricks book, and have Ben Goldacre’s book on the shelf for my next read…… Its sad to see (but not surprising) to uncover the true extent of corruption and greed that prevails in society at the cost of furthering true scientific discovery and learning, not to mention the longevity and enhancement of human health in general. It really is time people started educating themselves and not being afraid to ‘challenge’ their GP before being put on questionable long term medications. Doctor’s ain’t the bad guys but they are instead part of
    a system which is largely controlled by ‘big pharma’

  2. dearieme

    @Mark, my GP was unhappy when I declined his offer of statins, but sometimes a man’s gotta not do what a man’s gotta not do.

  3. mikecawdery

    Recently, the BMJ joined the exposure programme with a demand to see the full data on their flu drug TAMIFLU. But I understand that the BMJ and the Lancet signed up with a Merck subsidiary for CME courses – that would be unbiased?

    There is also the book by Dr Marcia Angell – “The Truth about Drug Companies……….” which pre-dated Goldacre’s book but was equally emphatic on their abuses of the system. Another useful source of information is the FDA’s list of fines on Drug Companies. The most recent one on GSK for hiding negative data (fatalities) was $3 billion which makes the fines on banks look like pocket money.


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