Month: April 2010

How do you make sure a journal endorses your drugs? Design your own!

Let’s start this blog out with a good, old-fashioned example of manipulation with one twist – manipulation not of the great unwashed masses, but of an intellectual elite: doctors. Let’s dive in: Last year, The Scientist reported a bombshell of a story. Basically, Merck, a large pharmaceutical company, had been paying a well-established publisher of medical and technical journals to publish a journal called Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine. The journal looked like a typical niche medical journal, complete with advisory board and articles that looked and felt fairly typical of peer-reviewed medical journals. But it was a complete fabrication – the articles, as it turned out, were either reproductions of other articles appearing elsewhere, or written by the “editors” of the journal – essentially Merck itself. The advisory board was full of doctors that were not aware of the publication. Of course, the articles were very favorable to Merck drugs, and were presumably quoted by reps to doctors as arguments in favor of prescribing those drugs to patients – “look at the results from the Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint!”. What Merck had done was publish a marketing brochure under the appearance of a real medical journal to manipulate doctors into prescribing their drugs. Do read the whole story – it’s a great yarn. What’s interesting about that story is what happened next: namely, nothing....

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What is manipulation?

So why another blog? After many years in the consulting industry, I wanted to find a space to chronicle some of the more egregious examples of political and business manipulations. Merchants and politicians (and, frankly, others) have always tried to manipulate the public. Some writers even published “how-to” manuals: The Prince. So, nothing new under the sun – why bother blogging about it? Well, for a number of reasons, manipulation has become both much more prevalent in recent years, and, in some ways, more insidious. Manipulators have become more savvy, be they politicians, businessmen, or media. At the same time, the typical targets of manipulations – the consumers, for example, or the average voters – have become less capable of spotting these manipulations. The main reason for that is simple: the world has become more sophisticated and more complicated. A company can hire ten very bright executives who will spend every working hour, 5 days a week, 48 weeks a year finding interesting ways to manipulate existing and potential consumers. An average consumer, by contrast, will have a few seconds to learn of, or spot, the manipulation itself. Remember that the best manipulation are hard to spot, and they rely on small shifts – it’s easier to convince a million people to give you an extra cent than to manipulate a thousand folks to hand over a thousand dollars...

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