Friday, February 1, 2008

What's a Medical Writer to Do?

Yet another Big Pharma company (Eli Lilly) is on the hot spot--this time for promoting off-label use of one of its drugs. A few months ago, it was Merck, lobbying for state mandates for the new HPV vaccine. See more about this topic here.

I work for a non-profit, so I kind of have the outsider perspective. But many of my AMWA colleagues work for pharmaceutical companies. In the midst of excesses by the marketing departments at their companies, what's a medical writer to do?

In my area of expertise (vaccine safety), the level of public mistrust of Big Pharma is very high. Not so much from the experts, who obviously need to work with manufacturers at some point in their careers, but from the general public. And sometimes, researchers--and even medical writers--are beaten up for their association with Big Pharma.

This is what is known as the guilt by association fallacy. Under this logical fallacy, someone would dismiss medical research as false by making an association such as this one: “Pharmaceutical companies are driven by profit. Medical researchers are supported by pharmaceutical companies. Therefore, researchers must be driven by profit.”

Guilt by association originates from an aversion of being associated with a person or an organization you dislike or distrust. If you distrust pharmaceutical companies, you wouldn’t like to be associated with them. This fallacy would imply that one should disregard a scientist whose analysis reaches the same conclusion as the vaccine manufacturer.

Yes, Big Pharma is usually driven by profit (aren't most companies?). I'm not trying to defend them here. It's just something that I'm faced with on a regular basis (anti-vaccine activists accusing our organization of being paid by vaccine manufacturers--NOT TRUE). I just want to point out that even if the management or the marketing staff at these companies have unethical behavior, that doesn't mean everybody else directly or indirectly associated with them is part of a conspiracy.

Okay, enough rambling for today. Thanks for reading!

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