Inside health : Conflicted medicine 3/3
- Porter, Mark, 1962-
About this work
Dr Mark Porter discusses the problem of bias from conflicted interests which arise from political and financial pressure in medicine. There is a wide spectrum of opinion as to the solution to this problem. One argument is that there is a need for independent scientists who have no link to industry and give an objective account of their research. One question Dr Porter tries to answer in this series is ‘how do industries with big financial interests use their influence to steer public policies?’ This is a key question that has driven policies in Britain regarding alcohol, tobacco and unhealthy food consumption. There is also the risk that policy is rigged with self-interests; for example, lobbying high profile alcohol and food companies. Professor David Nutt indicates that alcohol consumption has gone up 5 times over the last 10 years and identifies one of the key reasons as being sel-interested politicians with links to the drinks industry. He presents the revoked minimum price unit ban as evidence of this. The plan was revoked on the grounds that it would be unfair to those on low incomes. However, Sir Ian Gilmore and Dr Margaret McCartney state that there is enough evidence to show that the plan would have the reverse positive effect of lowering death rates by targeting heavy and underage drinkers. Edwina Currie adds that attitudes to alcohol in the media should be more controlled. Dr Margaret McCartney discusses the problem of bias, which can emerge several ways; reputational bias, financial and even subconsciously. Her solution is for an open dialogue between policy makers and consumers about their affiliations with industry and for evidence to be more regulated so that policies can be based on verified facts not bias facts. Dr Porter talks to Ian McDonald who was accused by of fraud when it emerged that for a campaign to reduce sugar intake, he had been working for Mars and Coke. Ian McDonald claims that this was misleading and that getting research money did not influence his work. Edwina Currie states that the stigma of working with the industry has a negative impact on research because the reputation of competent scientists can be ruined. Dr Margaret McCartney believes that honesty and transparency is important for resolving these issues especially as scientists cannot be absolutely independent or free of bias.
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