A List of Unconflicted Experts Produces an Unexpected Response

We previously discussed an article by Jeanne Lenzer and Shannon Brownlee in Slate The article discussed a show broadcast on many US National Public Radio (NPR) stations which portrayed a rather benign view of the side-effects of anti-depressant medications. Not revealed to listeners was that the show was partially funded by a company that manufacturers such medication, and all the participants in the show had some financial relationships with such companies.

We suggested that the audience deserved to know about such conflicts of interest, and that had the show's producers felt compelled to reveal them, maybe they would have thought twice about not including without such conflicts.

To demonstrate that it is possible to find such experts, at the end of the article, Lenzer and Brownlee noted they had compiled a list of experts who had no ties of any sort to pharmaceutical companies or device manufacturers over the last five years, and were going to make the list available to journalists. (Full disclosure: I am not on that list because I own 3200 shares of one pharmaceutical company, Elan. That alone was enough to disqualify me from the list, which shows how rigorous Lenzer and Brownlee were in selecting unconflicted experts.)

As discussed on the Hooked: Ethics, Medicine and Pharma blog by Dr Howard Brody, Lenzer and Brownlee were both deluged with requests from journalists for this list of unconflicted experts, but also by somewhat ominous demands for the list by people who may be tied to the pharmaceutical industry. Brody noted that it is not unheard of for industry to try to intimidate people it feels are hostile to its interests. (For some of our posts about related cases, look here and here.) He concluded, " industry appears to feel threatened by this list in a way that is quite unprecedented and unexpected. How and why that is so is worth pondering." Stay tuned on this one.