So last month, Stanford ix-nayed pharmaceutical freebies; the easist way to find any information about the ban is to simply search on David Magnus’s name; (Google likes to tell me every time some small paper picks up a larger syndicated article – you’d be amazed how often I’ve seen his name in the last three weeks). But basically, the idea is that even small gifts have been shown to influence physicians. The big pharma argument has been, for years, that they have allowances of no more than $100 per physician, and the cost is too small to really influence the course of decisions. It’s probably not a surprise to anyone familiar with some theories of gift economies that this isn’t actually the case, and something like pens, pads of branded paper, and/or a nice lunch will actually influence a physician’s prescribibg habit.
Anyhow, the commentary around this has really been run quite into the ground at this point, and I bring it up actually because of The Colbert Report and Demoicracy Now! guest Amy Goodman. Ms. Goodman drew some interesting parallels between gift economy/reciprocal altriusm (without using the language) and embedded journalists. An emdedded journalist relies on the troops they’re with to protect them, keep them safe, keep them informed. It runs very strongly counter to the best interests of the journalist (staying alive) to do anything to piss the troops off – like report negatively on them.
If something so simple as a less than $100 gift, a pen or pad, is enough to sway the opinion of someone who has, in theory, received enough education to make appropriate choices based on empiracal evidence and not gifts, how can it not be a force strong enogh to influence the reporting choices of someone whose life is potentially on the line? There is a sublte threat and coercion there which strongly tilts the reporting cards towards the military and away from factual reporting.