PhRMA and the political economy of sponsored content

by Henry on April 8, 2014

Two speculations and an announcement following up on previous posts on Talking Points Memo and sponsored content. First, the reason why TPM and some other policy/politics sites are moving towards sponsored content looks to me to have a lot to do with the advertising market. Politics junkies are not specifically attractive subjects for advertising, as one can tell from the ads in most policy focused print journals (which tend towards mobile phones with big friendly buttons for elderly people etc). I would guess that policy focused websites have relatively low clickthrough rates for standard ads, and in any event standard ads are a game where Google dominates (and is able to squeeze websites). Hence, sponsored content is an obvious way of monetizing readers – it allows people trying to sell a policy message to persuade policy focused readers more easily, using formats which strongly resemble the ways that these readers are used to consuming journalistic information rather than advertising.

Second, I suspect that editors of policy websites do not think of sponsored content as standard advertising, since it isn’t, no matter how they justify this comparison to the public and themselves. Instead, they implicitly distinguish between ‘respectable’ organizations, which they could plausibly take sponsored content from without damaging their reputation and self-conception too much, and ‘unrespectable’ organizations which they don’t want anything to do with. Big Beltway lobby groups, no matter how evil, fit into the first category. Religious cults and governments fit into the second. I would be prepared to bet a good deal of money that Josh Marshall would not have treated a proposal from the Church of Scientology for a ‘sponsored channel’ on psychological science as advertising content which you accept because if you start refusing you are entering into an editorial role etc etc etc. He’d have refused it, because it would have damaged TPM’s credibility. NB too that sponsored content from the Church of Scientology in a political magazine is not a crazy hypothetical.

The point isn’t that TPM, or other media groups are unusually hypocritical here or uniquely susceptible to getting into bed with problematic organizations. We live in a fallen world, where it’s hard to remain pure, and where many people and organizations arguably behave worse. I would bet significant amounts of money that Marshall wouldn’t accept a deal with the Chinese government to run sponsored content in an ‘East Asian Politics Channel.’ I would be completely certain that he would absolutely refuse a deal where the Chinese government had some editorial control over this hypothetical channel’s contents. It turns out that many universities aren’t quite so fussy.

Rather, it’s that the categories of ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’ that journalists (or, for that matter, academics and university administrators) work with, are sociological, rather than stemming from deep principle. They’re open to question and criticism. PhRMA – the organization that Talking Points Memo is working together with is a ‘respectable’ player in Washington DC politics. It’s a big policy actor, with deep pockets and a lot of influence. It is also in my opinion (and the opinion of most scholars working on access to knowledge issues), an organization that has done a lot to corrupt political debate in the US and elsewhere, pushing for policies that have led to widespread misery and indeed (e.g. in the case of AIDS drugs in South Africa), deaths. Hence the announcement. Over the next while, I’ll be looking to publish pieces from a variety of sources talking about the political activities of PhRMA and the pharmaceutical industry in general. One of the reason why PhRMA gets away with so much is because a lot of people don’t know what it has been responsible for. In an ideal world, PhRMA would be treated, like the Church of Scientology, as a pariah. Over the next few weeks, I hope we’ll be able to make the case for why.

{ 45 comments }

1

Shelley 04.08.14 at 3:18 pm

That’s disappointing.

2

Anderson 04.08.14 at 4:06 pm

“Politics junkies are not specifically attractive subjects for advertising”

Hm. I suspect it’s more that advertisers are not terribly smart about who politics junkies are and what they are inclined to click upon.

3

Main Street Muse 04.08.14 at 4:43 pm

Why are we to consider PhRMA a pariah? Curious about the parameters that lead to this statement.

4

Main Street Muse 04.08.14 at 4:46 pm

Want to add: That “PhRMA is a pariah to be avoided in an ideal world” is a different claim than “sponsored content is the ruination of journalism.” Want to be clear on what we’re talking about.

5

TM 04.08.14 at 4:59 pm

2: I belong to the target group of policy-oriented content (but cringe at that label) and I don’t click on ads. I can’t figure out why anyone would ever click on an ad. I am surprised that these journals still can make a living with readers like me. I don’t think of myself as terribly unusual in that respect but maybe I am deluding myself.

6

Dogen 04.08.14 at 5:30 pm

@4: It seems to me that both are important topics.

And with respect to “Why are we to consider PhRMA a pariah?”, I would suggest that the question for all Washington Lobby groups should be “Why should we NOT consider XXX a pariah?”

That is, as a reader, I want to be able to assume that the gatekeeper of a site has done some positive Due Diligence before accepting sponsored content. Just the fact that TPM has PhRMA as a producer of sponsored content seems to indicate a positive stamp of approval.

My personal experience with print publications using sponsored content is that if the sponsored sections are clearly labeled they are easy to ignore.

But what isn’t so clear is what influence the sponsor has on the regular journalism of the publication.

By taking large sums of money from a very large, very powerful lobby organization TPM immediately calls into question its own credibility on topics relevant to that organization’s interests. Especially when that lobby organization represents an industry not generally known for its altruism.

7

ISOK 04.08.14 at 5:36 pm

I suppose he isn’t monitoring this thread anymore but a question I’d like to see Josh Marshall answer is — who among his readership does he expect the sponsored content to serve?

To the extent that these PhRMA pieces attract any users at all, is it Josh’s assumption that they will have 1) recognized the article as sponsored content before reading and / or clicking and then 2) proceeded to read the piece anyway just to see what PhRMA has to say? Why would they do that? Who is the person who does that? What is the motivation?

While I suppose the above is plausible it seems to me that it would be rare. Certainly much more rare than simply mistaking “sponsored” for “actual” content, even if only initially. Does anyone, including Josh, believe otherwise?

8

Ronan(rf) 04.08.14 at 5:38 pm

This looks pretty interesting. I wonder how effective this type of advertising (specifically) is (if there’s any way of proving that effectivness.) ?
Not that that says anything to the broader case against PhRMA ..

9

Main Street Muse 04.08.14 at 5:55 pm

From Dogen @5 – “And with respect to “Why are we to consider PhRMA a pariah?”, I would suggest that the question for all Washington Lobby groups should be “Why should we NOT consider XXX a pariah?”

Yes. But Henry has separates PhRMA from other lobbying groups, saying that editors “implicitly distinguish between ‘respectable’ organizations, which they could plausibly take sponsored content from without damaging their reputation and self-conception too much, and ‘unrespectable’ organizations which they don’t want anything to do with. Big Beltway lobby groups, no matter how evil, fit into the first category.”

Why is that?

In that my state (North Carolina) has been flooded with outside money (like Koch brothers’ AFP) to influence the outcome of the NC Senate election ($15 million thus far has been spent on this campaign), I don’t view any big political lobbyists – from DC’s Big Beltway or from Wichita, KS – as “respectable.” So I want to know what is it about PhRMA that makes it a pariah to avoid, rather than a sponsor that’s “respectable” – like I guess AFP might be considered under Henry’s rationale.

I personally do not see the difference between sponsored content and advertising. What IS the difference? These are entities that want the eyes of consumers – and in today’s world, this desire is expressed across a range of media platforms.

How is taking money from PhRMA different than taking money from GM for a big ad buy? GM is the subject of news stories all the time. David Koch withheld money from PBS when he didn’t like the fact they were going to run with the anti-Koch brother documentary. Should PBS never have taken his money in the first place?

Again, it comes down to this: How do we fund news in today’s landscape? Most news outlets don’t know the answer to this.

Traditional news organizations continue to struggle. Monetizing content is an issue of survival. But this is not new to TPM’s sponsored content section. This tradition of monetizing news content is more than a century old.

And what industry is known for altruism? Seriously – which one passes the altruistic smell test? Coca-Cola? McDonald’s? WalMart? Goldman Sachs?

10

GiT 04.08.14 at 7:06 pm

“Why are we to consider PhRMA a pariah? Curious about the parameters that lead to this statement.”

What’s unclear about this? This is an announcement of forthcoming content.

“Over the next while, I’ll be looking to publish pieces from a variety of sources talking about the political activities of PhRMA and the pharmaceutical industry in general. One of the reason why PhRMA gets away with so much is because a lot of people don’t know what it has been responsible for. In an ideal world, PhRMA would be treated, like the Church of Scientology, as a pariah. Over the next few weeks, I hope we’ll be able to make the case for why.”

11

Val 04.08.14 at 7:48 pm

Good work, this sounds great. There is an associate professor at my university (Monash) in Australia who recently resigned from another university because they (the ones he left) were accepting some kind of funding or sponsorship deals from Swisse (he has critically examined the ‘alternative medicine’ industry, but has also done a lot of work on mainstream Big Pharma). You may know him? I’m sure he’d be worth talking to.

Will your posts also pick up companies like Swisse? The rather strange situation prevails in Australia that most medicines cannot be advertised direct to the public, but ‘alternative’ medicines, vitamins etc can be (not that I mean to suggest mainstream medicine should be either of course!)

Another field of interest of course is SSRIs – I remember a review that caused a stir one time suggesting that something like ?80% ? of their effect was placebo, or something like that, but haven’t heard much about that issue lately. Hope you’ll cover that. And “ADHD’ etc etc – the list goes on

Look forward to this

12

Collin Street 04.08.14 at 8:33 pm

> That is, as a reader, I want to be able to assume that the gatekeeper of a site has done some positive Due Diligence before accepting sponsored content.

But why would someone want to pay money to run their content on your site? Running a website to stick your content on isn’t hard, and in terms of raising profile of the content a discussion post and a link is just as good.

The only reason someone would want to put their content on your site is to partake in your credibility. And that in itself conveys information about the content, and if they want to pay you to do it more so.

13

Dogen 04.08.14 at 9:12 pm

@12: Exactly. You hit the nail right on the head.

14

Dogen 04.08.14 at 9:17 pm

@9: I see that GiT in comment 10 has responded so I won’t repeat.

By the way, I don’t read Henry endorsing the idea that big lobby groups are inherently respectable–rather I read it as him paraphrasing someone like Josh Marshall’s thought process. But Henry’s phrasing is ambiguous.

I, too, am interested in the promised followup.

15

JK 04.08.14 at 10:10 pm

” In an ideal world, PhRMA would be treated, like the Church of Scientology, as a pariah.”

Do you believe the same about PhRMA’s member companies? If so, do you believe the world would be a better place if big pharma shut its doors tomorrow?

I think the difference is that big pharma is doing some good and some bad, but makes a net positive contribution. Without regulation that net would be much smaller or maybe negative. Possibly regulation could be improved (strengthened, or maybe in some places weakened) to produce greater net good.

I don’t really see how regulation could improve the Church of Scientology without abolishing it. (I would argue there would be important principles of freedom of association and possibly even religion in legally closing down scientology, but I have no problem making it a pariah. I guess that’s a different issue, though.)

Is the proposed alternative to run drug research only through government and charities? If there is a place for market organization in drug research then it’s hard for me to see how regulation should take place without taking into account the interests of the industry. No doubt lobbying takes place behind closed doors already. Would it be better if such lobbying ONLY took place behind closed doors?

Unless some other measures were taken then from a practical point of view this looks to me like the most likely outcome.

16

Clay Shirky 04.09.14 at 1:53 am

Just a side note on The Atlantic running sponsored content from the Church of Scientology:

The problem was not merely that they took money from an organization many of their readers abhor, and ran it in a format designed, as Collin @12 notes, to transfer some of that magazines imprimatur to the C. of S. (though they did do that, and that was plenty bad.)

They posted the content via the content channel, not the advertising channel, of their production process, which meant that the Scientology content had a comment section attached. And then The Atlantic censored their own paying customers who tried to complain via the comments.

What The Atlantic was willing to sell to the Scientologists was not just the right to borrow the look and feel of the magazine, but to create alongside it a customized Potemkin Village of reader reaction, supporting the illusion that their own audience had no problem with the content, because of course the ones that did were silenced.

17

John Quiggin 04.09.14 at 4:39 am

I was thinking about the question raised by JK. The products of the pharmaceutical industry do a huge amount of good (on balance), but the political demands of the industry’s lobby group seem designed to restrict access to those products as much as possible, and to expand the scope for marketing costs and so on.

It would actually be good if TPM offered a forum where such issues could be debated with representatives from PhRMA taking part, presumably arguing that big profits on existing medicines are needed if we are to get more in the future.

18

bad Jim 04.09.14 at 5:40 am

One of the dozens of links Mike the Mad Biologist posted today, as he does every day, may be marginally relevant. It’s an article in Forbes , ProPublica Goes After The Wrong Man In Its ‘Dollars For Docs’ Crusade. A snippet from the introductory paragraph:

For this particular hunting expedition ProPublica set its sights on Dr. Yoav Golan, an infectious diseases specialist caring for patients at Tufts Medical Center in Boston who also works with pharmaceutical companies developing antibiotics. But in its zeal to argue how physicians like Golan are corrupting medicine through their industry partnerships, ProPublica went to press without an iota of evidence Golan is corrupt.

There’s a deep backstory, not all of which is presented in the article. Partnerships between industry and academy are not at all unusual, and, given dwindling public funding for research, perhaps necessary. An important point is that antibiotics are not especially profitable, since patients only use them briefly. The cash cows for pharmaceutical companies are medications for chronic conditions.

19

Cian 04.09.14 at 1:19 pm

JK’s question would be a good one if it was relevant. In reality the Pharmaceutical companies have been slashing research funding, which is why there are now so many unemployed pharmaceutical researchers out there. The industry is essentially trying to do two things:
+ Sweat existing assets
+ Buy start ups (whose assets they go on to sweat).

They’re really just trying to maximize return on existing assets at this point in time.

20

bjk 04.09.14 at 1:54 pm

Leave Josh Marshall alooone! Only an academic could go on at such tedious length about somebody else making a living and trying to do some good. Nobody reads TPM anyway, so no great tragedy either way.

21

Barry 04.09.14 at 2:14 pm

” In an ideal world, PhRMA would be treated, like the Church of Scientology, as a pariah.”

JK: ” Do you believe the same about PhRMA’s member companies? If so, do you believe the world would be a better place if big pharma shut its doors tomorrow?”

Please look up ‘strawman fallacy’ and ‘fallacy of the excluded middle’.

22

QS 04.09.14 at 2:18 pm

Henry, thanks, I look forward to your pieces.

23

BJN 04.09.14 at 4:27 pm

@21

The quote about PhRMA’s members is also misleading because it assumes that the organization is nothing but the sum of its parts, the constituent organizations and the peak have different motives, incentives, and actors. The companies are looking to make money by producing, selling, and (sometimes) researching medicines, and in theory they should be competing in order to maximize their profit by creating better products more efficiently (and while nobody thinks that this freshman year theory of the business holds true by itself, it still undergirds any claim of utility from the private sector). PhRMA, on the other hand, exists to alter the regulatory environment so that the currently existing members of the lobby can become more profitable independent of actually providing more/better goods and services, including by squashing competition outside the cartel that may not exist yet.

I can like and even support various members of my extended family while still fighting tooth and nail against the political movements they support with their money and votes.

24

JK 04.09.14 at 5:26 pm

Cian,

I agree that pharma is slashing research, and this is a problem. (I would add that state funding is becoming more and more oriented toward short term commercialisation, which is at least as great a problem for the future.)

However, I don’t think this makes my question irrelevant. There are still new drugs getting to market. So far as I can see that would not happen if pharma was closed down tomorrow.

Are you saying that if only pharma was run by more ethical people then they would invest in R&D, and all would be good with the world?

I think in concentrating on cuts to R&D you miss what the main elements of pharma strategy are. I think they see their competitive advantage in three places:

1) Marketing
2) Management of IP
3) Regulatory compliance

What is responsible for this shift? I think it’s hard to say that big pharma are either uniquely bad or even entirely to blame for this shift.

On the shift to buying start ups rather than doing research in house, that’s known elsewhere as ‘open innovation’, and seen as very hip. I think it’s a problem, but by no means unique to pharma.

On marketing, it’s true that pharma has some responsibility for disease mongering, and deserves criticism for that. But pharma didn’t invent medicalisation – it’s taking advantage of a wider cultural and political trend (e.g. medicalisation of unemployment from the 1980s onwards. The negative role of the state here is one reason I don’t think that just ‘more state regulation’ in and of itself will help.)

On the rise of IP management, again this is a pervasive trend in business in the last 25 years – see the mobile phone wars. Measures could be taken to try to redirect the expansion of social resources devoted to management of IP in a more productive direction. But don’t just complain that in the contemporary economy the production of drugs involves a lot of IP lawyers, as if that was the fault of big pharma. Legal and market conditions today pretty much compel any pharma company that wants to innovate to operate this way.

On regulatory compliance, I think that state regulation has a crucial role in ensuring the safety of drugs and that efficacy is as advertised. However, there is no doubt that the larger regulatory requirements become, the larger the bureacracy required to meet those requirements, run trials, oversee manufacturing to ensure quality control, and so on.

Expanded regulation, in part to protect the consumer, is a key reason why start ups sell out to big pharma in the first place. Who else has the resources to negotiate approval?

(Hopefully this helps explain why I think that BJN’s distinction in 23 is bit naive. I just don’t think the separation between the strategy of PhRMA and the individual companies is as clean as this.)

I don’t work for pharma, I am an academic medical researcher. I’m interested in any organisational structure that can take forward medicine, whether that’s the state, private sector, philanthropy, or some mix. If any one wants to suggest organisational forms that will produce new cures better than existing pharma, I’m all for supporting experiments along those lines.

In the mean time many key functions in our society are carried out by private enterprise. We could turn the Church of Scientology into pariahs. But are we going to do the same thing with the power companies that keep the lights on and Big Agiculture that produces our food? Are they worse than pharma? (Come to that, what about politicians that start wars on the basis of lies?)

The arguments of lobby groups such as PhRMA are a useful clue as to the incentives that people trying to produce drugs currently face, and how those incentives might productively be changed. Whether or not editors want to carry sponsored content is down to them. But until we live in a world ruled by Philosopher Kings who have no private interest except the pursuit of truth it’s better to have people arguing for their interests the best way they know how, out in public, without being made in to pariahs.

25

Consumatopia 04.09.14 at 6:13 pm

If I kill someone, no one has to sum up all of my good acts to see whether my actions have increased or decreased human mortality–I’m simply a murderer, end of story.

Similarly, if a lobbying entity blocks sick people in poor countries from having medicine, I don’t care how many lives have been saved by that entity’s clients–it’s lobbying for evil, end of story.

26

Luke 04.09.14 at 6:35 pm

IIRC, private research funding for important things like antibiotics is virtually nil, as a percentage of research budgets. Does anyone have any figures?

27

Metatone 04.09.14 at 7:58 pm

@JK – there’s a distinction to be drawn between individual pharma companies – whose name can alert readers to possible bias – and PhRMA which is clearly designed both to hide behind an imprimatur of a neutral organisation – and, let’s be honest, designed to lobby.

So we can say that individual pharma companies have redeeming features that PhRMA does not…

28

Metatone 04.09.14 at 8:01 pm

@JK – and to continue with your latest comment – there’s a lot of misdirection going on here. I don’t blame you for being misdirected, but since I’ve dealt with probably more of the nitty-gritty of pharma trials than you, it’s worth pointing out.

There’s massive manipulation of the credentialling process. Suppression of unfavourable trials and worse. That’s the root of a lot of new regulations over the years. It’s not at all reasonable to absolve pharma companies from their unethical actions in analysing the growth of regulation.

29

Main Street Muse 04.09.14 at 9:32 pm

I am curious to see how Henry will show how PrRMA is a pariah. From the discussion, the organization engages in behaviors that all large multi-national companies do – lobby for regs that benefit them; skirt the rules when possible; quash competition and seek profits even in third world countries. It seems like all lobbyists are to be considered pariahs. Are we focused on PhRMA because they had the temerity to seek sponsored content on TPM? Should pharma R&D be removed from the for-profit sector so that pharma products can be given away to all who need them regardless of ability to pay? Will be interested to see…

30

faustusnotes 04.09.14 at 10:03 pm

It would be interesting to see what the behavior of organizations like PhRMA would be like if the entire world (and especially, of course, the US) had universal health coverage. I suspect a lot of their policy pressure would be irrelevant, and their behavior more benign.

This growth in sponsored content at sites like TPM suggests to me the end of an era in the internet: the era when content was free because of the bubble economy of advertising. Companies have worked out it’s a waste of money and are putting the squeeze on. I’ve always thought it strange that the internet can provide so much material for free.

How long till Facebook start charging for access?

31

roy belmont 04.09.14 at 10:20 pm

It’s a relatively absurd position to take, but then I’m…
Anyway, the difference between “health coverage” as access to healthcare services v. access to insurance that will pay for those services.
Obscured in the noise of polarized battle. over what kind of insurance we’ll be forced to pay for. Health insurance – got to have it. With the consequent price-jacking, bill-inflation, unnecessary procedures etc.
And the completely obscure to-near-silliness part about the prostheticizing of the human immune system. No evolution for us, we’re already there.
As though a constant drift toward total reliance on external medical technologies is a chosen path we all agreed on, whose genetic destination is foreseeable and acceptable.
As against wtf is the direction here.

32

JK 04.09.14 at 11:02 pm

@Metatone – you write “there’s a distinction to be drawn between individual pharma companies – whose name can alert readers to possible bias – and PhRMA which is clearly designed both to hide behind an imprimatur of a neutral organisation – and, let’s be honest, designed to lobby.”

I don’t doubt that pharma companies bend the truth, lie, astroturf e.g. through patient groups, etc. In some cases they do try to mislead about who is behind the message. It not clear to me that this is the intention with PhRMA. I would have thought it was pretty transparent that PhRMA is an industry lobby group, although I guess they would prefer to be described as a trade association.

In any case, this particular objection seems fairly superficial. We can argue over whether the name is misleading, but it seems to me that is hardly the important point. If they were always refered to as, say, the Pharmaceutical Manufacturer’s Trade Association it doesn’t seem to me that the issues involved would be any different.

(The specific point about naming may go back to a broader disagreement about the robustness of democractic discussion, in which I have quite strong confidence. I’m OK with people calling themselves PhRMA just as I’m happy with people calling themselves pro-Life and pro-Choice without the imposition of more ‘neutral’ labels.)

I’m sure I have been misdirected in some ways, and of course I always welcome opportunities to learn. I’m aware of suppression of trial data and some of the regulations that have attempted to address that. But what I’m most interested in is how to make progress.

Metatone writes “It’s not at all reasonable to absolve pharma companies from their unethical actions in analysing the growth of regulation.” That may be true. But what I was pointing out is that the growth of regulation seems to me to itself be creating a niche for big pharma. Effectively their strategy is to become specialists in government affairs. It is the existence of this niche (as well as IP and marketing) that explains how they can be abandoning R&D while expecting to stay in business. I didn’t say this was a good thing.

33

alexf 04.09.14 at 11:42 pm

@21 >
>> JK: ” Do you believe the same about PhRMA’s member companies? If so, do you believe the world would be a better place if big pharma shut its doors tomorrow?”

> Please look up ‘strawman fallacy’ and ‘fallacy of the excluded middle’.

One of us is a complete idiot. If you believe that PhRMA’s member companies should be treated as pariahs, why isn’t the next logical question what would happen if they shut their doors. (Why would you want to treat someone as a pariah and _not_ want to shut them down? Or at least think about what happened if they did so, perhaps in shame at being treated like pariahs?)

(Unless you are thinking that JK is equating treating PhrMA as pariahs with treating its members as such but, I guess that so, no-one who would lecture on basic logic errors could make such an error.)

Less snide form: suppose I know very well and exactly what the ‘strawman fallacy’ and ‘fallacy of the excluded middle are’, in what POSSIBLE sense are they applicable here?
Give us a hint, at least, please.

34

Barry 04.10.14 at 12:34 pm

JK 04.09.14 at 11:02 pm

” I don’t doubt that pharma companies bend the truth, lie, astroturf e.g. through patient groups, etc. In some cases they do try to mislead about who is behind the message. It not clear to me that this is the intention with PhRMA. I would have thought it was pretty transparent that PhRMA is an industry lobby group, although I guess they would prefer to be described as a trade association.”

So the individual entities practice bad things, but their lobbying group is assumed innocent until proven guilty? Or rather, rather, assumed innocent until their guild becomes ‘clear’ to you?

35

Main Street Muse 04.10.14 at 1:06 pm

To Barry @33 – how is noting that PhRMA is an industry lobbying group mean that JK assumes it is innocent? Innocent of what?

What is the purpose of lobbying? To effect legislative change that benefits the lobbyist. Why is PhRMA the ultimate in evil for participating in something that all wealthy corporations are doing?

How is PhRMA’s sponsored content – clearly labeled and clearly avoided if one desires not to click on the link – more invidious than WalMart ads that show us how the company cheerily rolls back the prices? WalMart – the nation’s largest employer – pays employees so little they qualify for federal relief. You think they’re remaining silent on the minimum wage debate? They are paying millions to lobbyists to ensure that they get to keep paying employees as little as possible. (Walmart employees hold a canned food drive for Walmart employees: http://abcn.ws/1dbFExg – Walmart employees at one Walmart store cost the taxpayers about a million dollars in federal support http://1.usa.gov/1b0vGfG.)

Earlier this year, Duke Energy – a fortune 500 energy company – accidentally dumped millions of tons of coal ash into the Dan River. This highly profitable company ignored infrastructure maintenance of its coal ash ponds for decades. Their former employee is governor of NC, a state that pulled back on environmental regulation last year. Weeks after accidentally dumping coal ash into the Dan River, Duke Energy was seen deliberately dumping coal ash in the Cape Fear River. Their lawyers and lobbyists are all over the various levels of government, pushing for solutions that don’t require them to pay up for this breach – in fact, they openly state that they want customers now to pay for the cleanup – this after years of highly profitable operations that did not include spending on infrastructure maintenance.

I don’t understand tarring and feathering a particular lobbying group for practices that are common and pervasive in the American political process. The system itself is broken.

36

Another Henry 04.10.14 at 1:32 pm

The whole point of sponsored content is to obfuscate and confuse. Otherwise, why not just purchase a big ad that says click here to read what PhRMA has to say about something? PhRMA could send a free magazine to every single person who reads TPM, but they won’t because then it would be obvious where the content is coming from. A percentage of readers will not notice the subtle hints that it is sponsored content, and many more won’t realize what it means. It is simply a way for PhRMA to disguise its lobbying and advertising by hiding within TPM. That’s what’s wrong with it.

37

Layman 04.10.14 at 1:41 pm

MSM @ 29

“I am curious to see how Henry will show how PrRMA is a pariah.”

Not so curious that you can’t prejudge the outcome, apparently. Why not wait & see?

38

TM 04.10.14 at 4:00 pm

This Monbiot article might be of interest here:

“Almost every political agent – including some of the NGOs which once opposed them – is in danger of being loved to death by these companies. In February the Guardian signed a seven-figure deal with Unilever, which, the paper claimed, is “centred on the shared values of sustainable living and open storytelling”(11). The deal launched an initiative called Guardian Labs, which will help brands find “more engaging ways to tell their story”(12). The Guardian points out that it applies guidelines to such sponsorship deals to ensure editorial independence(13).”

http://www.monbiot.com/2014/04/08/loved-to-death/

39

Limericky Dicky 04.10.14 at 6:41 pm

caveat clinicus:
nothing unusual in
bribery, quackery,
studies suppressed;

everyone’s at it and
pharmacological
companies rank among
some of the best!

40

bjk 04.10.14 at 6:42 pm

As somebody who’s solicited money from lobbyists, I don’t think lobbyists really know what they’re doing. They’ve got a budget, and they’re going to spend it, but like any advertiser, lobbyists have no idea what works. Much of the giving to politicians is a kind of insurance, so that when and if the lobbyist needs a favor, the chief of staff doesn’t say “what is your name again?” Drive-by donors don’t get their calls returned. Some giving is just getting your name out there. Some is doing favors and expecting reciprocity. Some is just for the lack of anything better to spend the money on, sort of like the subway posters for multi-billion dollar weapons systems. So the idea that PhRMA has some master plan is wrong, in my opinion.

41

Sebastian H 04.10.14 at 8:15 pm

I don’t understand the sharp distinction between funding research internally (apparently good) and buying the research of a small biotech (apparently bad). There is no way most small biotechs can deal with the FDA and late stage clinical trials. Their whole business model involves being purchased by big pharma. Regularly purchasing small biotechs IS funding research so far as I can tell. Is that wrong?

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Sam Tobin-Hochstadt 04.10.14 at 11:14 pm

Sebastian H, the move to buying research has the major effect of shifting risk and reward around. Risk is moved to early-stage investors, small biotech employees, etc (unlikely to have a 30 year career as a scientist at a startup), and away from the large drug companies. Reward moves to that same set of people, but just those where the research works out, and moves away from the large drug companies.

One major thing lost here is some percentage of the stable, long-term professional positions at big drug companies as a career model.

Also, there are various reasons to think that the new model won’t work as well (but potentially also reasons to think it could work better), in basically-standard big organization/small organization ways.

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Sebastian H 04.11.14 at 6:36 am

The small biotech concept has been in place for at least 20 or so years. I would tend to suspect it is a mixed bag–the decisions are made closer to the knowledgeable scientists, but may not have as much support. But it isn’t clearly worse than the big time drug company model–as big internal focused companies still exist especially in Europe, and appear to be doing about as well as the acquisition oriented ones.

“Reward moves to that same set of people, but just those where the research works out, and moves away from the large drug companies.”

That is true of the small investors (as opposed to the investors in the large drug companies). Employees of small biotechs are still rewarded quite well even if the drug goes nowhere–which is as it has to be since there are so many failures. But that is why I don’t understand the ‘research is falling and money is being spent on acquisitions’ criticism upthread. Money spent on acquisitions is money that pays for research. It doesn’t really make sense to think of it as other than outsourced research. Now you can say that outsourced research is problematic (I tend to think it is at least as good as sclerotic in house research) but that is totally different from talking about it as if it weren’t research money.

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novakant 04.11.14 at 11:21 am

#38

That’s pretty scary: The Guardian is pushing “native advertising” like there is no tomorrow and is deliberately blurring the lines between editorial and advertorial:

http://www.velocitypartners.co.uk/our-blog/native_advertising_trust_for_sale/

If this bastion of righteousness is waving the white flag in the face of corporate power and starts to actively mislead its readers then journalism is in real trouble. I already sensed they would sell their grandma for pageviews, but this is something else.

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Another Henry 04.11.14 at 1:09 pm

Bottom line–everyone has their price.

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