October 4, 2008  ·  Lessig

You wouldn’t think so reading stuff here (exclusively politics focused, sorry for that), but I’ve been following the recommendations on the wiki and elsewhere, and reading tons about corruption in many different contexts. The field of medicine, however, continues to be the most striking to me. Here’s the latest from the great Senator Grassley, as described in an article in the WSJ:

A prominent Emory University psychiatrist failed to tell the school about $500,000 he received from drug maker GlaxoSmithKline PLC while heading a government-funded research project studying Glaxo drugs, Sen. Charles Grassley alleged.

(Thanks, Birgit!)

UPDATE: The psychiatrist has stepped down.

(Thanks again, Birgit.)

  • Tom Poe

    Electronic monitoring of studies, as laid out in the 1992 Accelerated Approval Policy (original version) would have impacted directly on the type of corruption Grassley alleges. He knows that, and the drug companies know that. Had it gone forward as originally intended, smaller companies would have been able to shatter the Wall Street requirement that small companies sell out to larger companies before investors put their money behind promising research. Unfortunately, electronic monitoring with non-proprietary software lowers the cost of R&D by 70% or more. That is tantamount to treason in the eyes of the Drug cartel. Maybe it’s time to lose the premise that the industry is operating efficiently, and move to something better, like an approval system that puts patients, first. Did I mention the other unfortunate impact? The one that saves over 1 million needless deaths each year due to bad data from the drug studies?

  • HH

    The normalization of white collar crime without punishment is now complete. I have not read of a single instance of any leaders responsible for the largest collapse of financial institutions in recent history being prosecuted for illegal activity. Most are receiving huge payments as they leave their wrecked organizations. The legitimization of cunningly crafted misrepresentation has permeated every sector of government and industry, leaving us a profoundly sick and dysfunctional economy. We will now reap the consequences.

    There is no quick structural fix for societal decadence. It will take decades to recover.

  • http://24Ahead.com/ 24AheadDotCom

    The “bags of cash” form of corruption is the low-hanging fruit. Everyone’s against it, politicians are willing to speak out against it, and the MSM is willing to report on it.

    However, there’s one form of corruption that only some politicians are willing to speak out against and that the MSM supports and enables. In fact, the MSM and others consistently tries to damage the careers of those politicians and others who do speak out against it.

    I left the details on that form of corruption at the wiki almost a year ago:

    http://wiki.lessig.org/Talk:Corruption#A_huge_indicator_of_corruption.2C_and_what_to_do_about_it

  • Wes

    Maybe slightly off the topic of corruption but on the topic of drug companies…

    You see a beer commercial on television. It shows some guy bored and alone. He goes to the fridge, cracks open a beer and all of a sudden he’s at a this amazing party surrounded by adoring super models. While there is some truth in the commercial (beer is often served at parties and attractive people are often present at parties), most people recognize that the commercial is fundamentally a marketing fantasy. Further, most people realize that the reason the executives at the beer company are running the beer commercial is less because the executives are concerned about the welfare of the general public and more because the executives want to increase profits so they can award themselves another luxury vacation home in incentive bonuses.

    Compare that to a drug commercial on television. It shows some guy whose life is thoroughly wretched; relationships, career, even the family dog is wretched. He goes to his doctor, gets a prescription for some drug and all of a sudden everything about his life is just amazingly wonderful (even the family dog). While there is some certainly some truth in the commercial (depressed people are usually prescribed drugs and many people do, eventually, recover from depression), most people don’t seem to recognize that the drug commercial is fundamentally a marketing fantasy. Further, most people don’t seem to realize that the reason the executives at the pharmaceutical company are running the drug commercial is less because the executives are concerned about the welfare of the general public and more because the executives want to increase profits so they can award themselves another luxury vacation home in incentive bonuses.

    What brings this all up is that there seems to be a similar lack of skepticism about scientific studies conducted by pharmaceutical companies. You’ve got some study that is, at the very least, bankrolled by a profit motivated corporation where many of the details of the study are “proprietary” (secret). The corporation stands to make huge profits if the (mostly secret) study shows that their drug is safe and effective. Most people, though, just somehow trust that the free market will protect them

  • Afonso

    If I could make a small contribution to the debate, I’d like to suggest a different perspective.

    The main issue in the example show by professor Lessig is that “… the psychiatrist failed to tell the school about $500,000 he received from drug maker GlaxoSmithKline PLC while heading a government-funded research…”

    Had the psychiatrist told everyone or made a disclaimer about it, we, as society, would be able to make in informed judgment about weather or not his views, opinions or interpretations were biased and industry oriented.

    To use a law and economics terminology, the real problem was an asymmetry of information between the researcher and society.

    Society was not granted the full extent of information necessary to make critics or understand the real motivations or hidden agendas.

    But the interest thing in my view is that the market itself already has mechanisms to eliminate this asymmetries of information that, ironically, sometimes are viewed as market failures.

    Imagine the corporate mechanisms that bind corporation to disclose relevant information to the market. The aim here is not just to protect investors, but to maintain the market itself sustainable. The theory here is that an informed market functions better.

    I guess that in some degree the same logic may be proven beneficial to the understanding of the kind of corruption that is being studied by professor Lessig.

    We could imagine that it exists a implied duty or a moral duty to disclose relevant information to society when we are in some specific social roles: academics, researchers, politicians, etc.

    Corruption arises when individuals take advantage of the asymmetry of information created by not performing this implied duty or moral duty of disclosure.

    This duty of relevant “social” information is necessary for society to make informed decision about weather or not “invest” in the information that is being given. “Invest” in the sense that we give value to that information and orient our conduct or decide collective action accordingly.

    Thus, on way to fight corruption is to identify what sort of institutional apparatus we have or we might construct to enforce this duty of social disclosure.

    To follow the metaphor, I believe we make a more efficient “investment” by using a portfolio approach. It might be necessary to link different incentives with different sorts of natures to counter-balance the weight of money: Honor, moral, philosophy, reputation, arguments showing the efficiency of a “truth-based” social system, etc.

    And to tap in to the old field of research of professor Lessig, I’d like to make another metaphor that may be applicable.

    The same way that the Open Source Software Movement provided not only an alternative and effective business method, it also outlined some basic ethical principles for the programmer’s community.

    As the movement has evolved, we’ve seen the usage of that expression “open source” in the most diversified ways. I guess it might be seen as cry out for a different way rather than the “corporate-economical-financial-single-bottom-line-show-me-the-money” logic that has been hegemonic (and suffocating) ins society for the last century.

    To fight this “age of corruption” I guess we not only to be a “free speech” society, we need to be an “Open Source Speech Society”.

    We need to understand that every individual has the duty not only to pass along information, we need to communicate the “source code” of that information, that is the motivations that compelled us to produce, get, and/or distribute that information in the first place.

    And to sum up these thoughts I’d be honored to hear a comment of professor Lessig regarding the idea that we need an “Open Source Speech Society”.

  • http://www.bioresonantie-therapie.nl bert

    It’s unbelievable how the pharmaceutical industry provides us with false information. They make billions of medicinal products placed on the basis of semi-scientific studies on the market.

    Meanwhile, they destroy everything in their path, which is contrary to their goal: making money.

    For a lot of money and bribes they conquer positions in politics which is further expanding their power.

    A great enemy of the pharmaceutical industry is the alternative medicine. Instead of just treating the symptoms they heal the sick man, and do not use any regular medications.

    To thwart this alternative form of healing the pharmaceutical industry has been through a major political act.

    Thus, for example, may on the labels of homeopathic remedies are not what they are for.

    It is a scandal showing that the world is ruled by money alone.