Views & Reviews Book Review

The truth about drug companies (again)

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f632 (Published 30 January 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f632
  1. Carl Elliott, professor, Center for Bioethics, University of Minnesota
  1. ellio023{at}tc.umn.edu

We already know that big pharma is dirty business, but with his latest book Ben Goldacre mobilises his charisma to effect change, writes Carl Elliott

At this stage in the game, the crimes and sins of the pharmaceutical industry are not really in serious dispute any more. Thanks to the hard work of government prosecutors, muckraking reporters, and whistleblowing employees, we know that big pharma rigs clinical trials, hides unfavourable results, ghostwrites journal articles, manipulates professional bodies and regulators, bribes physicians, bullies its enemies, and engages in spectacularly inventive public relations schemes to increase sales of drugs that it knows to be dangerous or worthless. All of this harms patients, by crooking the regulatory process and distorting the medical literature so that doctors unwittingly end up making bad clinical decisions.

All this has been documented. You may disagree about how widespread the problem is. You may quibble over statistics. Or, like the pharmaceutical industry itself, you may say that the problems are all in the past and have now been corrected. But to deny the problems entirely would mean ignoring a large body of evidence, much of which has been collected and deployed to effect by Ben Goldacre in his new book, Bad …

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