An article in today's New York Times - "Citing Ethics, Some Doctors Reject Industry Pay" - will warm the heart of bloggers, present company included. Here is the key passage (I have added the emphasis):
Dr. Peter Libby, chief of cardiovascular medicine at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said that when he first began receiving offers from drug companies, in the early 1980s, they seemed like a natural reflection of his burgeoning reputation.
“When you start emerging as an opinion leader or as a researcher who has knowledge and expertise, the pharmaceutical industry takes an interest in either having you consult to help them with their research or to speak,” he said.
Dr. Libby wanted to assist. Like many scientists, he feels that it is important for researchers to consult with drug companies to help develop therapies and set up studies. He never owned stock in companies that he consulted for. He always disclosed the fact that he consulted and spoke for companies. And, he added, he thought that he was protected from accusations of favoring any particular company’s products because he consulted for so many.
“I lived safely in that comfort zone for many years,” Dr. Libby said.
Then he was hit with a moment of truth. He had spent four years working without pay to help create a public television series, “The Mysterious Human Heart.” The project was, he thought, a worthy effort to educate the public about what heart disease was and how to prevent it. He was proud and pleased when the series was broadcast in October.
But to his dismay, bloggers immediately attacked him and the other medical experts who appeared on the programs for having consulted for manufacturers of pharmaceuticals and medical devices, Dr. Libby said, adding: “They said we were biased. What I thought was four years of public service was impugned.
“That was a wake-up call for me. I was singed in the blogosphere.”
This year, he made his decision. He would continue speaking at forums sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry and would continue consulting for companies. But he would no longer accept payment.
I assume that Dr. Libby was troubled by postings on thoughtful, "evidence based" blogs that he respected, not by cranks. Given that assumption, the blogosphere appears to have been providing the crucial public function of "mirror, mirror, on the wall."
Dr. Libby's program may not have been influenced at all by the industry associations of its participants. When a judge has lunch with a gangster they may be discussing how best to support Mother Theresa's charity, but when a photo of the lunch is published the judge has to resign. Judges are worthless if we can't trust them. Just so with physicians and researchers.
Pharmaceutical companies are not gangsters (excepting a few), but we know that even small gifts can skew opinions. Dr. Libby made the right decision.
Bloggers - keep at it!