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An atypical side-note

I don’t talk about my job on this blog, and today will be no exception. However, I am (as reported on the sidebar) a scientist who works in the medical field (kinda). As such, I feel it appropriate to comment on this story I saw in the news:

Doctors have sharply cut some financial ties to drug companies, thanks to increased scrutiny about relationships that critics allege improperly influence medical treatment, a survey suggests. The biggest change occurred in the number of doctors who accept drug company money for attending medical meetings, including covering travel to sometimes exotic locations. That fell from 35 per cent in 2004 to 18 per cent in last year, the survey found.

There is a near-constant din that comes from advocates of alt-med that medical doctors are “in the pocket of Big Pharma”, and that anyone who advocates science and opposes superstitious nonsense must be getting paid for their position. Anyone who has been to my apartment or seen the way I dress will be able to attest that if I get money from Big Pharma, it’s not enough (full disclosure: my employer does receive research money from pharmaceutical companies, under contracts that strictly bar those companies from interfering with our research in any way. I have not personally received a cent from any corporate interest).

I will give the alt-med crowd one accolade to hang their hat on – they changed the conversation. It used to be the case that doctors were very much in bed with the pharmaceutical companies, and it was repeated and consistent criticism of this practice that led to findings like the one above. It was a legitimate criticism of a shady practice, and it forced regulators to police the kinds of remuneration that physicians were allowed to (or felt entitled to) accept. This didn’t happen spontaneously; many doctors initially denied that the gifts exerted any influence over them whatsoever. Of course the evidence suggested otherwise.

It’s good to see when a small group of people can raise public consciousness about a serious ethical issue and see meaningful results. I applaud the alt-med crowd for a job well done, and look forward to the day when my merry band of skeptics can return the favour and stop the egregious abuses of trust that alt-med practitioners are allowed to get away with every day.

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