Apr 19 2008

Bloggers Affect the Objectivity of Science

An interesting article about scientists and their ties to profit making medical organizations such as pharma, device manufacturers and others has crossed my desk.

And it’s a welcome change of pace!

Questions have surrounded the objectivity of researchers for several years. A scientist or researcher who is employed by, say, a university, has traditionally accepted money from device manufacturers to help support research into, say, materials used in the building of a knee replacement.

See why it’s not objective? Biting the hand that feeds you is never a good idea.

Somehow, until recently, few of those doctors and researchers saw the problems, though. It was like the money blinded them to their lack of objectivity…. until….

Dr. Peter Libby, the chief of cardiovascular medicine at Harvard’s Brigham and women’s Hospital, and an opinion leader in many areas of heart-related health, helped produce a documentary with PBS called “the Mysterious Human Heart.” He took no pay for it — but when the program hit the airwaves, bloggers everywhere attacked him for his ties to the pharma and device manufacturers which they claimed tainted the “objective” heart health information contained in the documentary.

He couldn’t live with the scrutiny, nor having his integrity questioned. Dr. Libby no longer accepts any form of support, monetary or otherwise, from the industry. He continues to work with those companies, but does so without pay.

Dr. Libby’s epiphany is only one of several cited in the article. Kudos to all the professionals who are beginning to “get it.”

We will all benefit from objectivity — and the medicine needle will begin its move more to the ‘science’ end, and away from the ‘art’ side of the patient-health-improvement barometer.

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3 comments

  1. An honest question:

    Should financial advisors that earn commission from large financial corporations for selling their brand of mutual funds be made illegal? Both fields play a vital role in providing a service for safety and longevity of life. A doctor does it through health. A financial advisor does it through retirement planning. So I ask, in the interest of consumer advocacy, should these commissioned relationships between financial advisors and big mutual fund selling financial powerhouses be outlawed?

  2. HH,

    It’s a fair question. I can’t speak to the arena of financial advisers — it’s not my subject and I have not made a study of them.

    But if you are suggesting doctors who are subsidized by big pharma or a device manufacturer should be considered to be the same as financial advisers who work for branded mutual fund companies, I suggest that they are not.

    For one thing — the effects of finance vs medical care on human outcomes are not similar. One may be a question of life and death, the other is a question of how to pay for food and shelter. Granted, they effect each other, but no, I don’t believe they are the same.

    Secondly — when a financial adviser who works for a large firm makes recommendations, she makes them with that firm’s name on her door and on her business card. When a doctor or researcher is being subsidized by anyone other than the lab or university he works for, then the subsidizing party is not known to us unless it’s disclosed separately. You won’t find the corporation’s logo or name on that doctor’s business card or door.

    Therefore — the difference is in the advisee’s perception. In the case of a financial adviser who works for XYZ Mutual Fund Company — anyone with enough money to talk to that person to begin with will know that the recommendations will be based on what XYZ Mutual Fund Company has to see. But in the case of a patient, or another medical professional to whom a doctor is making recommendations — the perception is that the person is unbiased because disclosure of an additional funding source is rarely forthcoming.

    And even if the subsidized doctor is totally unbiased, the fact that the relationship is undisclosed makes him or her suspect. Perception becomes reality.

    Thanks for posting. You gave me some food for thought.

    Trisha

  3. Thanks for responding. Often times, when you go to a financial advisor, you may not know that they are getting a commission for selling a certain branded name of mutual fund. They are not employees of large firms. Their relationships are not always known or explained. They may get commissions for selling branded funds.

    It is not a given that an established relationship is known between client and adviser. In fact, it is often not known at all. Getting higher commission for selling certain brands of securities, and for selling certain types of securities within that brand is often not known by the lay person looking for a trust worthy adviser

    You imply that physicians represent life and death and are therefor on a different level than a financial adviser. I disagree. An elective total hip replacement has nothing to do with life or death. It has to do with quality of life in terms of mobility and function. By their very nature, being elective, they should not be construed as any more important than the quality of ones retirement funds to provide a comfortable lifestyle (mobility and function). I would argue that food and shelter are vastly more important (and related to good financial planning) to provide for than is an elective hip replacement replacement.

    Thanks for responding. Just another way to look at things.

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