Occasionally, I receive thinly veiled questions about my integrity and ethics in the comments of various posts, in emails, or on social networking sites. Mostly, I laugh about them since they are a form of Ad hominem argument, called the Big Pharma Shill Gambit, where one side of an argument tries to dismiss the scientific evidence of another side by accusing them of being a paid mouthpiece for pharmaceutical companies. My response is generally to state that I am “polishing the gold bars stored in the basements of Big Pharma offices,” and I don’t get paid very much to do that–it’s just about the only answer worthy of the stupidity of these accusations.
The problem with actually trying to dismiss these accusations is that it’s nearly impossible to dismiss the accusations with evidence, because as we know, proving the negative is almost impossible. I could post my investment documents, and you will see that I own many shares of stock and mutual funds that invest in biotechnology and pharmaceuticals. Companies I might discuss might make up 0.1% of the holdings of the mutual fund, which means I own around 0.000000001% of a single Big Pharma company. Now, I am certainly not arrogant enough to believe that what I write has any effect on some company’s stock price, but if it did, I reap the rewards of ½¢. Woo hoo.
Of course, even if I did post my stock holdings, someone will accuse me of hiding my 2 million shares of Merck stock in my secret offshore bank account. Which probably is in the same vault as the shiny Big Pharma gold bars.
I also do not receive cash or other payments from Big Pharma, nor will I ever. Unless they name me CEO, then I’ll quit writing here. Promise. I blog because I enjoy it, and because I think I’m returning something to the world community.
As I’ve said before, vaccine deniers (or GMO refusers, since they use the same nonsense arguments) should bring evidence that I or any pro-science blogger is being paid by Big Pharma. Please do, because then, if you have the evidence, call the FBI, and have any or all of us arrested.
Not only am I confident that I am not a paid Big Pharma shill, I am pretty confident that no other blogger is paid either. Why am I so confident? Lots of reasons:
- FDA regulations expressly limit what any employee, consultant or “shill” of a pharmaceutical company can write about a vaccine.
- The FDA limits what can be said about “off-label” uses of drugs in social media (pdf).
- The FDA limits what can be written about side effects, uses, and prescribing information of drugs by those who are acting on behalf of a company (pdf).
- According to the FDA (pdf), “The Internet and social media have increased the volume and extent of materials and speeded the delivery of those materials. Websites can have hundreds of pages and can change daily. It is important to know that although we closely monitor what companies say, we generally do not have authority over statements made by independent organizations or persons—what we call third parties—unless they are acting on behalf of a company.”
- Not only the FDA, but also the Securities and Exchange Commission, tightly regulate what individuals say about future products or indications. The facts are, almost any blogger who speaks about future vaccines do so openly, probably because none of us are “acting on behalf of a company.”
In other words, if any of us were actually speaking on behalf of a pharmaceutical company, and writing what we have without disclosing that we were representatives of Big Pharma and without including full prescribing information, we would be committing a crime. The FDA would fine the offending company billions of dollars, and those of us who are shown to be shills would be in deep trouble. So, once again, if you have evidence that any pro-science/pro-vaccine blogger or social media activist, including myself, are being paid by Big Pharma, prove it. Or seriously go away with your stupidity.
Sure maybe it’s possible to pay some of us secretly to shill. The problem is that it wouldn’t be an inexpensive endeavor for pharmaceutical companies. Are they going to pay a blogger $10 to write about a new drug? Probably not, it would be thousands of dollars. And that money could not be hidden in the company’s books, it would have to be publicly stated, so there will be a public record of all of this, in one form or another. There are hundreds of pro-science/pro-vaccine bloggers on the internet. Does Big Pharma pay every one of them for positive articles? At the end of the day, there would be no profits left!
If Big Pharma wanted to pay me to blog for them, my price for selling out is so high that they may as well hire me as the CEO. Not that I’m asking.
In fact, if I noticed a real shill on social networking sites (or commenting on this blog), I would call them out. And if I thought what they were doing violated FDA regulations, I would be the first one in line reporting them to the FDA. If I were the CEO of a pharmaceutical company, I would probably laugh at anyone in the marketing department who brought up a strategy to engage in the conversation about vaccines on social media (blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Google). Why? Because the only way for someone acting on behalf of the company to speak or write publicly is to be absolutely transparent about their relationship with Big Pharma, and they must communicate by staying within the regulations of the FDA’s labeling requirements. At this point, these real “shills” would be laughed out of the conversation. You might think that I’m a full-throated supporter of Big Pharma, but I am regularly troubled by their unethical and irresponsible marketing efforts. And there isn’t anything a real “shill” would write or say that I would respect at face value. And I’m pro-vaccine. Someone on the fence about vaccines (let alone a vaccine denier) would simply dismiss anything stated by them as an outright lie.
So, what can we conclude here. First, I haven’t, nor will I ever, shill for Big Pharma. I will be as cranky, cynical and snarky as I wish about Big Pharma. And when they save lives, millions of lives, because of vaccines, I have given them all of the credit that I can. Second, if I know that there’s a shill out there, and I think that what they’re doing violates regulations, I am contacting the FDA. Third, if you think I’m shilling, and have proof, go ahead and call the FDA. I have been transparent with the FDA in the past, and I would now. Fourth, if Big Vaccine companies think that hiring a real shill (and being absolutely unmistakable about that relationship) is going to help the discussion, that’s incredibly unsophisticated and overrating the value given to corporate mouthpieces. Only a Big Pharma marketing department thinks they’re that good–I don’t. No one would give any weight to anything said by a shill, even to those of us who are more amenable to Big Pharma’s point of view.
I’m sure I’ll get accusations about my ethics over and over again. It’s boring. Bring proof, or stop, it makes the accuser appear to be a psychotic crackpot. But if you can find a secret Swiss bank account with money meant for me, send me an email. I’ll make sure to share the funds with all of my fellow shills.
- Once you have to explain a joke, the joke is no longer very good. Nevertheless, the title of this article is based on something Alger Hiss said, who also couldn’t prove the negative.Full disclosure.
- I do not own any shares of stock directly in any pharmaceutical or biotechnology company. I do own shares in mutual funds, as I’ve mentioned, that have institutional investments in many drug and medical device companies, though I have no control whatsoever in what stocks are placed in the basket of stocks and bonds owned by the mutual funds. If you knew anything about mutual funds, I wouldn’t have to explain it, but I know that most science deniers are just as clueless about business and finance as they are about science.
- I have spent nearly 30 years in the pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical device industries in a variety of management and executive positions in marketing, sales, product development, research & development, mergers & acquisitions, and operations. I have worked for vaccine companies in the past, but only in research and development. I am never in contact with anyone about what I write, unless I’m trying to gather scientific evidence, and I request papers from an author, or an explanation from the author about the paper.