When Medical Journals Are Big Pharma Infomercials

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/charlie_brown_in/4813687658/">Pranjal Mahna</a>/Flickr

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

The days when Big Pharma showered doctors with branded coffee mugs, pens, notepads, and other freebies ended in 2008, when many pharmaceutical companies voluntarily agreed to stop doling out drug tchotchkes in an attempt to curry favor. Now, the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry’s influence is more subtle.

A new article in the American Scholar notes that Big Pharma is quietly manipulating the contents of trusted medical journals. As the former editor of the British Medical Journal, Richard Smith, told writer Harriet Washington, “All journals are bought—or at least cleverly used—by the pharmaceutical industry.”

Below, a look at the American Scholar‘s findings:

First, it starts with heavy advertising—revenue that many medical journals need to stay in print. Then, drug makers leverage the financial power from their ad dollars to pressure journals into excluding drug research trials that show negative or ineffective results. It doesn’t end there, though. According to the American Scholar, many drug-reviewing experts published in medical journals are paid by drug makers. Reviewer’s bias, anyone?

Doctors rely on medical journals for the newest pharmaceutical research findings and unbiased scientific insight into their field. “When you are published in a medical journal, especially one of the top ones, this gives the article a certain imprimatur that makes people less critical,” says bioethicist Joel Lexchin. The American Scholar article notes that when these journals’ objectivity is compromised, doctors may believe that “medications in trials are more effective than they are.” Click here to read the American Scholar piece.


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend