One of the Biggest Scandals in the World Exposed – You Should Read “Bad Pharma” by @Bengoldacre

I like to think that what I do on this blog is provide “evidence-based” writing on issues of interest to me. These have been predominantly, but not exclusively, related to football, and the assorted machinations and manipulations surrounding Rangers Football Club, and its various owners.

I do write about purely legal things too, aside from the legal aspects of the football imbroglios.

These things are of varying degrees of importance to people. To some football is the most important thing in the world – to others the football side is merely a trivial diversion.

If I was ever to write a book (hah), then I would be proud to have it compared to the volume this post is about.

Bad Pharma

Click here to head to the Amazon page for the book.

Whilst there are arguments about the value of the subjects I write about, there is no doubt that the topic of Dr Ben Goldacre’s marvellous book, “Bad Pharma”, is one of huge importance to everyone in the country, and indeed to everyone in the world.

Dr Goldacre, in 365 pages of impeccably sourced text, reveals the scandal of how global drugs companies have, for many years, manipulated and hidden the results of drugs trials; have distorted the results of research so that neither medical professionals nor patients can possibly get a proper idea of the effectiveness and safety of many common drugs; devised ways of extending the patents on drugs by subtle alterations to their makeup, thus costing public health services huge extra sums in costs of medicine; and spend billions of dollars on marketing and promotion which persuades doctors to prescribe medication which will not be the best for their patient.

The drugs companies argue that their promotional and advertising budgets are simply for public information and are not intended to persuade patients to demand the medication, or to encourage doctors to prescribe them. That may be true, but it is similar to the protests of the tobacco companies that it spent so much money simply to encourage existing smokers to switch brands, and that not a penny or a cent of their marketing budgets was meant to have non-smokers take up the habit.

Dr Goldacre is described on his website as follows:-

Ben is a best-selling author, broadcaster, medical doctor and academic who specialises in unpicking dodgy scientific claims from drug companies, newspapers, government reports, PR people and quacks. Unpicking bad science is the best way to explain good science.

The key thesis of Bad Pharma is as follows:-

  • Drugs are tested by the people who manufacture them, in poorly designed trials. On hopelessly small numbers of weird, unrepresentative patients, and analysed using techniques which are flawed by design, in such a way that they exaggerate the benefits of treatments.
  • These trials tend to produce results that favour the manufacturer.
  • When trials throw up results which do not suit the manufacturer, they are perfectly entitled to hide them from doctors and patients.
  • Regulators see more of the data but do not pass this to doctors or patients.
  • Academic papers, assumed to be objective, are often covertly planned and written by people who work directly for the drugs manufacturers, without disclosure.
  • For some of the most important and enduring problems in medicine, we have no idea what is the best treatment because it is in no one’s financial interest to conduct any trials at all.

Dr Goldacre proceeds to back up all these charges, and more. No one comes out of the book well.

Regulators fail to regulate.

Drugs companies use all sorts of covert and underhand, and in some cases illegal, methods to sell their drugs.

Some medical professionals and academics take the drug companies’ cash for writing or presenting, or even simply allowing their name to be added to, a presentation. (And in no way to do something as vulgar as to promote a drug.)

The media regurgitate, uncritically, stories which benefit the drug companies, in a way familiar to readers of Nick Davies’ “Flat Earth News”. “Churnalism” is rife.

Dr Goldacre points out too how the frequent press stories about patients castigating the NHS for not providing some new, but hugely expensive, “wonder drug” all seem to be of benefit to the drugs industries, and the patients’ groups who pursue these campaigns, such as for the anti-cancer drug Herceptin, are often funded largely by the drugs companies. It is surely mere coincidence that these patients’ groups rarely criticise the drugs companies for the high costs of the drugs they sell.

The largest fines imposed in the American criminal justice system were imposed on multi-national drugs companies.

Yet despite all of this, the pharmaceutical industry continues on its lucrative way, making medical reps, advertisers and PR people rich, and not doing the best for the patients who consume its products.

The problems are industry-wide. All of the major players are accused by Dr Goldacre of misleading doctors and harming patients.

And, as well as being a book which is meticulously referenced, with practical suggestions for readers regarding what they can do to try to make things better, Dr Goldacre is also a fine writer, able to be humorous about these vital issues, without ever losing the point he makes.

Read this book.

Posted by Paul McConville

PS In the interests of full disclosure, I confirm that this post was written by a ghost-writing team of 27 people from the publishers, who presented me with 17 boxes of branded pens and post-it notes, whilst hiding all of the notes from which the post was prepared.

PPS The above PS is a joke.


Filed under Books

16 responses to “One of the Biggest Scandals in the World Exposed – You Should Read “Bad Pharma” by @Bengoldacre

  1. Soracte

    Ben Goldacre is a heroic and evidence-based fighter of the good fight.
    Excellent to see this review on your site Paul.

  2. scott

    Still, it’s surely no’ all bad. I went to the GP because I was unpleasantly congested – I thought it was my sinuses, and maybe it was, but the pills she gave me not only cured that, but they were also effective for episodes of “mania and psychosis”.

    Result. And even better, a result I didn’t know I needed.


  3. ecojon

    It’s shocking but there are so many experts regarded as the ‘great & the good’ in so many different spheres who are happy to lend their name as an endorsement as long as the fee is high enough.

    They just don’t care about the sketchy research data and flawed stats never mind the sick people desperately hoping the latest wonder drug will give them a bit longer on Earth.

    And when things start to go wrong and a few ripples start when poor or adverse results can’t be hidden anymore the dodgy gear is shipped off to the Third World.

    And almost in a perverse comedy it’s bought with International Aid Money while the multinationals laugh all the way to the bank as there is little in the way of medical infrastructure in the countries where the dumping takes place to spot the problems.

    But it’s not just medicines: it’s foodstuffs and drinks and the growing mountain of toxic chemicals in every household which seemingly has become essential to maintain hygiene – I’m sure the rocketing incidence of asthma, especially in kids, has a lot to do with these ‘killer’ aerosols.

    Tbh it really is depressing because I reckon that it’s getting to the point where it’s becoming impossible to trust the Regulators who should be not only watching our backs but protecting our health.

  4. HIs “Bad Science” book is good read too.

  5. lordmac

    is all moneys being raised for cancer development, going to cancer fighting laboratorys, cancer research as i believe they must have discovered something, yet all the credit goes to the pharmaceutical company, not the people that have funded the development, surley that cant be right, can it.

  6. bradyBHOY

    If your not part of the 1% then get used to this kind of thing,too few people are in control of the rest and these drug companies just make things up as they go along,you only have to think of the Ritalin stuff a few years back in America,unreal,kids are just kids and some are hyperactive but no we want to make up a disease and give them drugs that kill some of them,terrible what’s happening in the world these days.

  7. Paul c

    It’s a very interesting, I’ve ordered a copy upon reading that.

    As an analytical chemist I have spent 2 yrs within the pharma industry. I must say that all pharma lab work is to GLP/GMP (good lab practice / good manufacturing practice) which is the highest quality system. Absolutely everything is traceable. I can expand on this if anyone wishes but it generally involves a lot of calibration and running standards for every instrument used wether its a simple weight from a balance or an assay by an HPLC system (high performance liquid chromatography).

    As this system is in place data recorded which is out of spec/limits is recorded and has to be reported as a non compliance etc So it does shock me that the lab goes through all this trouble through R&D, stability testing etc for someone higher up the chain to cherry pick data when it comes to trailing the drug. I know it has to be effective well above the “placebo effect”.

  8. FairBairn

    I had concluded some time ago that some businesses seems to be more concerned with short to medium term gain than providing a sustainable service.
    My wife had gradually become sensitive to some foods, but couldn’t get to the bottom of the trouble. We went through the usual channels with no outcome until we came across a doctor on the internet. We contacted and visited him in Derby. My wife followed his instructions and was clear of reactions in ten days.
    Because it was more practical to use food which was suitable for my wife, I was on the same diet and gradually found that by avoiding certain foods I no longer had migraines and, in three years, had maybe two or three colds of short duration. I used to have the three of four a year and some were stinkers!
    I believe there is a lot to discover. I suspect that, just now, we are manufacturing harmful foods, but that lifestyles have to be developed to allow us to have a reasonably healthy life.

  9. alexander

    Slight Diverse Paul! Who,s got the Arsenal Shares?

  10. I’m delighted to see you addressing this subject, Paul.
    I’ve been convinced for a long time that curing illnesses and promoting general well-being is most assuredly not in the best commercial interests of corporations which control the so-called health services. The fewer sick people there are, the less need there is for pharmaceutical products.

    What’s good for Big Pharma will usually be bad for most of us. An excellent example of this principle is the obsessive promotion of useless and even downright dangerous vaccination programmes. The recent attempt to create a panic over the impending catastrophe of a Swine Flu pandemic was nothing other than a marketing ploy to shift a huge stockpile of irrelevant drugs which were nearing the end of their shelf life.

    Nor should we look at Big Pharma in isolation. The food industry – and Monsanto in particular – appears to regard wholesome nutrition as an evil which must be eradicated by any means possible. There is an entire generation today who do not have the slightest idea of what a grape or a tomato or an Ayrshire potato really tastes like.

    Furthermore, legislators continue to demonstrate that their first priority is to safeguard the interests of the big corporations rather than to protect the general public from the inevitable, malign consequences of giving free rein to the school of thinkers who seem to have leapt straight from the pages of “Brave New world.”

    I dearly hope this book keeps selling and selling and selling

  11. Very disturbing read, though not in the least surprising. Thank you for bringing it to our notice, Paul. It actually reads like the basis of a John Grisham novel and shows that truth really is stranger than fiction, or, rather, more frightening.

    During the Rangers’ saga we’ve read posts on various blogs describing CW and his like as sociopaths. It would appear that there are many such people, who place their own self interest above basic human decency or even humanity, happy to put the lives of god knows how many people at risk, just so they can make even more billions. How sad is it, that an industry with the ability to do so much good in the world, should be led by such people?

    • I’m one of those people, Ally, (although I much prefer to use the word “psychopaths” rather than the softer term “”sociopaths”) and I completely agree that it’s sad – indeed, unacceptable – that those who are least fit to lead are almost invariably in the top positions.

      My own view is that they consistently manage to reach these positions precisely because too many of us have been unaware of their real nature. The Bad Pharma example is replicated in every other major corporation and government structures are also psychopath-friendly. Unfortunately, despite the large numbers of excellent individual studies into the scandalous running of industry such as Big Pharma, there is far too little written about how this continues to happen. It won’t be solved by regulation when the regulators can be appointed by or leaned upon by the psychopaths themselves; it won’t be countered by legislation while legislators are beholden to their psychopathic sponsors; and it won’t be publicised by a mass media which is firmly in the grip of psychopathic control.

      One of the aspects of the Rangers tax case that I considered to be the most important was that it’s a microcosm of what happens in the business and political world all the time. But because so many football fans are interested in Rangers, there’s a better opportunity to point up the issue of how the pyschopathic mind afflicts society in general.

  12. Hugh Jampton

    My company tried to sell a simple endoscope cleaning machine,and we took space at exhibitions and conferences for medical staff including nurses doctors and consultants.
    I and my business partners who are engineers were completely astonished to see the behaviour of the “medical profession” when they arrived as delegates. Most carried attache cases or briefcases into the exhibition area where their naked greed was pandered to by the big drug and medical equipment companies. Gifts were laid out by almost all of the big companies and these were grabbed as in a feeding frenzy, and stuffed into said briefcases by men and women who expect to be respected as the “caring profession” by a cowed patients when in hospital.
    It cannot be difficult therefore, given the examples of poor judgement of these individuals, for the big drug companies to bribe the decision makers in the health profession, with conferences organised at, for instance, a golf complex on the Algarve, or a product launch on a cruise liner. The business part of such junkets takes up but a few hours and then…. well need I say more.
    Private enterprise used to get a bad name for bribery and corruption, which has been largely (at least in the UK) eliminated by criminal prosecutions.
    Perhaps an example could be made of some drug companies in an effort to get responsible ethical behaviour.

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