Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Scientific Freedom, Big Pharma and Detailing

I have never been a big fan of Big Pharma.  They act as if they save the world, but they are not doing a favor to anyone given they charge a fortune to provide us medicines.  They don't deserve any moral high ground.  Further, the more they interfere with free academic thought, the more one needs to be cautious.  I had commented a long time ago on the importance of freedom in academia.  I am reproducing it here.  The original comment is on Jagadguru's blog.

Your point also highlights something more deeper in research and incentives. A scientist needs to be truly "objective" and in that sense detached from the phenomenon and the findings. Research that is closely tied to output that can be monetized severely taints the objectives of the true scientific enterprise.

The tenure system in good universities exists so as to enable such researchers to pursue issues that might lack immediate monetary potential but have long range implications for the benefits of a broader audience.

Sure, academia has to collaborate with the industry - but monetizing research output should not be the only criterion for this collaboration. Industry can provide the necessary real world context for the theoretical models that academia develops and the academia can provide a deeper "causal" understanding of the real world that industry desperately needs.

Research has a much broader purpose that is beyond a few innovative ideas and a few researchers making money. It is to develop a deeper understanding of the real world and advance our understanding about ourselves in such a way that it increases social welfare in general.

I am also troubled with the increasing number of research articles being published in leading marketing academic journals on detailing.  Most often detailing is merely a count of the number of visits made by the sales rep.  I have had trouble placing this in a real world context where one can argue that (over) detailing actually causes more harm to consumers.  Physicians may over diagnose and prescribe medicines at the hint of vague symptoms.  Additionally, if you throw in all the possible associations between Big Pharma, sponsored research and the role of opinion leaders in physician networks - things don't look so good.

it is probably time that someone probes this issue taking a social welfare perspective and not merely the financial returns of Big Pharma or their innovation output.

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