Industry-friendly experts

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Industry-friendly experts serve two primary roles in the propaganda and public relations campaigns. In the first category are people who work behind the scenes as advisors, using psychology and other specialized expertise to design PR and advertising campaigns.

In the second category are experts for the public stage who appear to speak as independent, disinterested authorities with regard to a public issue. This kind of expert plays a role in the propagandists use of the third party technique, a marketing strategy employed by PR companies of placing a certain message in the mouth of the media or seemingly independent experts. In some cases, an expert's opinion is directly related to receiving compensation from the industry or interest whose activities the expert advances. In other instances, an expert may already hold a view that is beneficial to industry, thereby having his work receive more attention and attract more funding than if it weren't supportive of the propagandist's cause. This kind of expert may be professionally inept or overly ambitious. Or he may be simply naïve about how he is serving as a tool for the propagandist.

The psychologist R. Clotaire Rapaille is an example of the first category of experts. Rapaille has advised the International Food Information Council, a food industry front group, on how to sell genetically engineered foods with "words to use," such as bounty, children, choice, earth, purity, tradition and wholesome. The U.S. auto industry has also benefited from Rapaille's wisdom. The New York Times's Keith Bradsher reported that Rapaille advised Detroit automakers that SUVs that appeal to Americans' deepest fears of violence and crime and should be marketed to take advantage of that fact.

Elizabeth Whelan, president of the American Council on Science and Health which purports to be "a science-based, public health group that is directed by a board of 300 leading physicians and scientists," routinely dismisses health risks and environmental harm from pesticides and other toxic chemicals, while earning a six-figure annual salary that is largely funded by the chemical industry and agribusiness. Whelan maintains, however, a small degree of credibility in some circles by being a harsh critic of the tobacco industry.

Many experts for hire, such as Steven Milloy, proprietor of Junkscience.com, flatly refuse to discuss where they get their funding, and the front groups and think tanks that employ them are not required to disclose their funding sources.

A subtle and often effective form of industry utilizing a friendly expert is by having the expert exert influence in her professional organization or trade association. Often an industry or government will need to gain the support of, or at the very least neutralize, a specific group to carry out activity. For example, in order to build a new prison, certain people and organizations associated with the criminal justice system will have to say that there is a need for a new prison, or minimally, that another prison wouldn't hurt. In order to increase the likelihood of approval for a new prison, the prison industry may try to exert influence through a member or members of a group like a prison workers' union or a policeman's association.

Carrying this third party technique to an extreme, an industry may encourage its expert to take a strong position against some abuse or potential of the field in which they operate. Over time the expert will moderate this position or limit its applicability.

Another kind of expert exploited by the PR industry and propagandists is the use of journalists. PR firms will often create pseudo news, which is essentially a biased message attempting to appear like a news story. Examples of this are video news releases (VNRs), press releases, special advertising supplements, and other kinds of ready to consume media. In the case of VNRs and other visual media, a firm will create a segment that looks like TV news reporting, complete with an actor or a real-life reporter playing the role of an independent journalist.

For example, in May 2003 the New York Times exposed an attempt by a Boca Raton, Fla., production company named WJMK to use CNN's Aaron Brown to host a series of corporate-sponsored videos that look like news. WJMK made offers to Brown and former CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite to host a program called the American Medical Review. "Drug companies and other health care companies pay WJMK about $15,000 to have their companies or products featured in the videos, which are two to five minutes long and run between regular public television programming," the Times reported. [1]

PR firms, corporations, and other propagandists also use ghostwriters to draft written materials ranging from medical journal articles to letters-to-the-editor. The article or letter will then be published under the name of a respected researchers or hometown hero – whatever may be most persuasive to the intended target of the propaganda.

Contents

In the GM field

There has never been any shortage of scientists and experts ready to publicly enthuse about genetically modified (GM) crops and food. They are generally presented as independent and their corporate affiliations are either not disclosed or are glossed over. For example, even when GM proponent Professor Vivian Moses is identified as being part of CropGen, it is often not described as an industry-funded body formed to promote GM crops. Sometimes a pro-GM scientist is described as being linked to an apparently public research institute such as the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), or the John Innes Centre (JIC), but the fact that these organisations get a substantial part of their funding from industry is not mentioned.

Similarly, UK government scientists, who have an aura of independence in the eyes of many members of the public, are often given a platform to speak without authoritative challenge - even though support for GM in the context of wealth creation is part of government policy. An example is the BBC Radio 4 programme on GM foods (broadcast 3 December 2008) as part of its Street Science series, which featured former chief government scientist David King propagandizing for GM (see transcript here). King's inaccurate statements and unsubstantiated claims in favour of GM were pointed out by critics such as Peter Melchett of the Soil Association[2], though the critics gained little media coverage in contrast to King's pro-GM hype.

One way that the GM debate is spun in science documentaries is by pitting an apparently rational pro-GM scientist against an anti-GM activist, whose statements are more likely to be seen as emotionally-based and unscientific, even though there are many scientists who are critical of GM crops. Examples of documentaries in which the debate has been framed in this way include Martin Durkin's Modified Truth: The Rise and Fall of GM, broadcast on Channel 4 on 20 March 2000, and BBC2's Horizon programme, Jimmy's GM Food Fight, aired on 25 November 2008. Durkin's documentaries in particular have been subject to complaints from interviewees that their views have been misrepresented (see Martin Durkin).

Journalists who want to interview scientists or other experts about GM are steered by the Science Media Centre (SMC). The SMC pretends to be independent but consistently supports government policy and corporate interests in its press releases. In the field of GM, the SMC quotes only industry-friendly experts who follow the pro-GM line.[3]

Industry-friendly experts in the GM field

Klaus Amman | Alex Avery | Dennis Avery | Gerard Barry | Roger Bate | Roger Beachy | Graham Brookes | Gregory Conko | Phil Dale | Thomas R. DeGregori | Bill Durodié | L. Val Giddings | David King | Dean Kleckner | John Krebs | Martin Livermore | Henry I. Miller | Steven J. Milloy | Vivian Moses | Channapatna S. Prakash | Philip Stott | Dick Taverne | Anthony Trewavas | Florence Wambugu

In the Pharma field

It is normal practice for pharmaceutical regulators to ‘...draw on a pool of scientists and drug experts who, with few exceptions, have or in the past had links with drug companies, from shareholdings to research grants to their universities.’ [4] These experts with potential vested interests in drug companies sit on committees, which in theory means they can influence decision making during licensing and beyond.

The EMEA, however, argues that industry influence does not exist as all members of the regulatory agency have to disclose their interests. ‘Community legislation clearly states that the members of the Management Board, scientific committees … and EMEA experts shall not have financial or other interests in the pharmaceutical industry that could affect their impartiality. They shall make an annual declaration of their financial interests. In addition, all indirect members which could relate to the pharmaceutical industry shall be entered in a register held by the EMEA, which the public can consult.’ [5] The regulator insists that ‘...a policy on the handling of conflicts of interests for the EMEA scientific committee members and the EMEA experts was established with the objective to lead to a more robust and transparent system... aim[ing] to reassure the public that all the Agency’s bodies, including the Management Board, are impartial and independent, and that its decisions are solely guided by the public ... health considerations.’ [6]

However, if you keep reading the fine-print in the EMEA’s policy on conflicts of interest, it becomes clear that the regulator does not object if a member or expert has a high level of involvement with the pharmaceutical industry. Conflicts of interest ‘relate to a specific product or situation and not merely to the member’s/expert’s exposure to the pharmaceutical industry in general.’[7] Disclosure merely gives regulators the opportunity to legally associate themselves with the industry. This supposedly ‘transparent’ process is simply allowing them to be influenced by pharmaceutical companies.

The public declaration of interests and confidentiality undertaking of the EMEA Management Board and the Scientific Committee Members and experts is available for every member on the EMEA website. One example picked at random is that of Dr Robert Ancuceanu, who works for the National Medicines Agency. He acknowledges that he used to be an employee for a pharmaceutical company more than one year ago, but less than five years ago. However, although he states that he worked for Medochemie LTD in Cyprus from 2002 to 2003, he does not mention which products he had primary responsibility over, as ‘it was a long list and he [I] cannot remember.’[8] That seems to be sufficient disclosure for the EMEA and affords him the right to be a part of the regulatory procedure, despite having close ties to the industry. Other examples include the ‘revolving positions’ of Sir Alasdair Breckenridge position and Ian Hudson in the case of Seroxat (see section on SSRIs.)

Other lucrative areas for pharma-friendly experts include: [9]

  • The unethical practice of ghostwriting, which involves appointing scientists who accept large sums of money from drug companies to put their names to articles they have not written and to endorse new medicines. In some cases, the scientists named as authors will not have seen the raw data they are writing about. [10]
  • Sponsored meetings by drug companies, where the ‘disease’ is defined.
  • Drug company funded studies of therapies.
  • Patient groups, disease foundations, and advertising campaigns (on both drug and disease) sponsored by pharma companies.’ [11]
  • Targeted expert doctors may be paid for endorsement of products
  • Media awards, offering lucrative prizes to journalists.
  • Celebrity endorsement of drugs.

Industry-friendly experts in the Pharma field

Adam Jacobs | David Earnshaw | Craig Westervelt | Wesley Combs | Billy Tauzin

Examples

References

  1. Melody Petersen, "CNN Anchor Backs Out Of Video Deal", New York Times, May 8, 2003.
  2. Peter Melchett, "Who can we trust on GM food?", The Guardian, 9 December 2008, accessed January 2009
  3. Andrew Rowell has written a detailed critique of the SMC's similar bias in relation to the nuclear industry. See Andrew Rowell, "Science Media Centre Accused of Pro-Nuclear Bias", Spinwatch, 22 January 2008, accessed January 2009
  4. Bosely, S. Scandal of scientists who take money for papers ghostwritten by drug companies The Guardian Accessed on June,25,2008
  5. EMEA [www.emea.europa.eu/pdfs/general/direct/conflicts/3165303en.pdf EMEA: Policy on the handling of conflicts of interests of management board and scientific committee members and EMEA experts.] Accessed on June, 26, 2008
  6. EMEA [www.emea.europa.eu/pdfs/general/direct/conflicts/3165303en.pdf EMEA: Policy on the handling of conflicts of interests of management board and scientific committee members and EMEA experts.] Accessed on June, 26, 2008
  7. EMEA [www.emea.europa.eu/pdfs/general/direct/conflicts/3165303en.pdf EMEA: Policy on the handling of conflicts of interests of management board and scientific committee members and EMEA experts.] Accessed on June, 26, 2008
  8. EMEA EMEA:Public Declaration of Interests and Confidentiality Undertaking of EMEA Management Board and Scientific Committee Members and Experts. Accessed on March 12, 2008
  9. Law, J. (2006) Big Pharma. Constable & Robinson Ltd, London, p.59.
  10. See case of Dr Aubrey Blumsohn.
  11. Law, J. (2006) Big Pharma. Constable & Robinson Ltd, London, p.59.
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