Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Massive fraud by the pharmaceutical industry

Corporate sponsored science has been a problem for a while, leading to serious questions both about openness and the independence of the results. The pharmaceutical industry has long been the biggest culprit here, paying for studies and then leaning on researchers to ensure that results are cast in the best possible light (and refusing publication and embargoing the data if it is unfavourable). But I never thought they would be this blatant:

[Medical] journals, bibles of the profession, have huge influence on which drugs doctors prescribe and the treatment hospitals provide. But The Observer has uncovered evidence that many articles written by so-called independent academics may have been penned by writers working for agencies which receive huge sums from drug companies to plug their products.

Estimates suggest that almost half of all articles published in journals are by ghostwriters. While doctors who have put their names to the papers can be paid handsomely for 'lending' their reputations, the ghostwriters remain hidden. They, and the involvement of the pharmaceutical firms, are rarely revealed.

These papers endorsing certain drugs are paraded in front of GPs as independent research to persuade them to prescribe the drugs.

In other words, rather than being filled with scientific studies, medical journals are filled with bought-and-paid-for infomercials; it's not science, it's marketing.

This is probably the most widespread and egregious case of scientific fraud in history. It makes every article about pharmaceuticals in every journal questionable, and undermines the output of an entire discipline - and everyone who depends on it.