A media group group, Health News Review, has published a list of “independent” experts who can give expert commentary on the pharmaceutical industry. Only one problem, the list of experts isn’t independent. They might be free of the influence of the pharmaceutical industry, but these “industry experts” are anything but independent.
So how independent and unbiased are these so called experts? I Googled Andriane Fugh-Berman and found an article she had co-authored in the pseudo-journal PLoS. In her own words from the Conflicts of Interest section of her article: “Adriane Fugh-Berman has accepted payment as an expert witness on the plaintiff’s side in litigation regarding menopausal hormone therapy.”
The individuals on this list like Adriane Fugh-Berman, who add their names to this list while shilling for trial lawyers, are the same individuals who criticize doctors for purported conflicts of interest. Ironic? That someone could criticize a doctor for accepting a $5 subway sandwich while accepting thousands of dollars for providing expert testimony for trial lawyers is a bit hypocritical.
And of course, there’s Dr. Sidney Wolfe. Sid is much smarter than Adriane Fugh-Berman. He doesn’t accept the checks from the trial lawyer’s directly. Instead, the trial lawyers cut the checks to Public Citizen, which then pays his salary. [Note: Public Citizen currently does not qualify the organizations or individuals that provide it funding…if it’s green, they’ll take it] The funding of Public Citizen by trial lawyers is no different than what pharma does in funding “advocacy groups” via “unrestricted grants.” The trial lawyers keep an arms length and a “reputable” group like Public Citizens does what it’s told.
It wouldn’t surprise me if most of the names on the list shill for plaintiff’s attorneys or have as many conflicts of interest as the doctors they criticize.
The list is quite simply a list of individuals who do not have ties to pharma, but have many other undisclosed conflicts of interest. These individuals are hardly “independent” or “unbiased.” If someone wants to be an independent expert, then I absolutely applaud them for it. But don’t get all righteous for being anti-pharma or pharma free, when you (or your employer acting on your behalf) accept money for providing biased expert testimony. If you’re going to claim to be independent, then be truly independent.
It is worth stating that the list was created by discredited freelance journalist Jeanne Lenzer. Lenzer is a hired gun journalist available for hire to the highest bidder. Lenzer also maintains her own significant relationships with trail lawyers, which was chronicled in a New York Times article. The result was that one of Jeanne Lenzer’s employers, the once-reputable British Medical Journal, has had to apologize to pharmaceutical companies for her lapses in credibility and integrity. This alone should make the entire list of “independent experts” suspect.
I wouldn’t have ANY objections if the two pseudo-journalists who created this list (Jeanne Lenzer and her partner Brownlee) said only that this is a list of pharma-free experts. However, when they begin to introduce the word “independent,” I take exception. This is nothing less than an intentional mis-representation of these individuals.
All of this controversy came about because a pro-pharma expert, Peter Pitts, was not identified as such in a story on NPR. I wouldn’t consider Peter Pitts independent. And I wouldn’t call Jeanne Lenzer or anyone on this list independent either. If the real issue behind this is UNDISCLOSED conflicts of interest in the industry, then the anti-pharma foes of Lenzer, et. al. are just as guilty as Peter Pitts and the pro-pharma advocates. Pitts didn’t disclose on NPR, and Lenzer and the trial lawyer shills aren’t adequately disclosing either.