'The medical-political complex tends towards suppression of science to aggrandise and enrich those in power. And, as the powerful become more successful, richer, and further intoxicated with power, the inconvenient truths of science are suppressed. When good science is suppressed, people die.' BMJ executive editor Kamran Abbasi
Below is a section from the Australian Medical Professionals Society's (AMPS) submission to the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts Communications Legislation Amendment (Combating Misinformation and Disinformation) Bill 2023. The full submission can be viewed here.
AMPS believes granting ACMA, a government-appointed entity, the authority to label information contradicting official messaging as misinformation or disinformation establishes an alarming and precarious precedent. This becomes especially concerning considering the growing awareness of the effect of corporate conflicts of interest, leading to biased reporting within academia, biased media content, skewed therapeutic guidelines, and profit-driven public policies. History is replete with instances showcasing the consequences of authorities making decisions without being held accountable or having to be transparent about their actions. We must be cautious when policies, based on concealed health advice for instance, are determined by those in power without the requirement for empirical validation, effectively bestowing them the power to define what qualifies as true information.
The extensive sway exerted by pharmaceutical companies' financial interests across medical academia and public policy presents a notable jeopardy to the credibility of healthcare and societal welfare. The involvement of pharmaceutical companies in financing research, regulation, education, and policy endeavours introduces an intrinsic susceptibility to bias, potentially undermining the impartiality of scientific investigation and policy development. This dynamic could result in an undue prioritisation of profit-centred incentives, overshadowing the imperative of prioritising patient well-being and the broader public health.
Professor Ioannidis describes what he calls a 'misinformation mess' where he claims much-published research is not reliable. Having to negotiate such a mess in deciding exactly what is misinformation offers no benefit to patients or decision-makers. It is a risk to public health.
The government must consider that many prominent journal editors have drawn attention to the pervasive influence of financial conflicts of interest on the reliability of research findings.
'Financial conflicts can compromise the integrity of research,' warns Dr. Fiona Godlee, editor-in-chief of The BMJ, stressing the potential bias that can result from industry funding.
Dr. Jerome Kassirer, former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, notes in his book, How medicine's complicity with big business can endanger your health, the 'shocking extent of these financial enticements and explains how they encourage bias, promote dangerously misleading medical information, raise the cost of medical care, and breed distrust', highlighting the distortion such conflicts can introduce into the scientific record.
Dr. Virginia Barbour, founding editor of PLOS Medicine, adds, disclosure alone is insufficient to address conflicts, emphasising the need for greater transparency and safeguards against undue influence.
Dr Maria Angell, long-time editor in chief of the NEJM resigned more than 20 years ago after 20 years as editor because of what she described as the rising influence of the Pharmaceutical industry. She said in her book, The truth about drug companies: How they deceive us and what to do about it, 'Now primarily a marketing machine to sell drugs of dubious benefit, big pharma uses it wealth and power to co-opt every institution that might stand in its way, including the US congress, the FDA, academic medical centres and the medical profession itself.'
These editorial voices collectively emphasise the imperative of robust disclosure mechanisms and stringent evaluation of financial conflicts to maintain the integrity and credibility of research in the face of commercial interests.
AMPS would argue that the demonisation of Ivermectin during the pandemic is a prime example of how financial conflicts of interests that claimed extensive evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of Ivermectin in the treatment and prevention of Covid resulted in harm.
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