I stumbled across a delightful article in The New York Times this morning: "Citing Ethics, Some Doctors Are Rejecting Industry Pay."
Here's how reporter Gina Kolata described the trend:
"With little fanfare, a small number of prominent academic scientists have made a decision that was until recently all but unheard of. They decided to stop accepting payments from food, drug and medical device companies.
"No longer will they be paid for speaking at meetings or for sitting on advisory boards. They may still work with companies. It is important, they say, for knowledgeable scientists to help companies draw up and interpret studies. But the work will be pro bono."
Kolata went on to profile three prominent researchers who have made the decision to eschew corporate payments that could compromise their independence and integrity. They are Dr. Peter Libby, chief of cardiovascular medicine at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital; Kelly D. Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale; and Dr. Eric P. Winer, director of the Breast Oncology Center at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard.
Dr. Jerome P. Kassirer, a distinguished professor at Tufts University School of Medicine, wrote a book, ''On The Take: How Medicine's Complicity With Big Business Can Endanger Your Health," that outlines the problem of corporate influence on medical research. He estimates that while pharmaceutical companies spent $2 billion lobbying politicians, they shelled out $20 billion to persuade the nation's doctors to prescribe their drugs.
Kassirer told The Times that five years ago, “nobody paid any attention to taking money from industry. They just took it. In some instances, I think people thought they were suckers if they didn’t.”
Kolata's Times article continued:
"'I don’t think there’s any question that the atmosphere has changed,' Dr. Kassirer said.
"He attributes the change to publicity about conflicts and what can be almost a public shaming when researchers’ conflicts are published. 'Finally, it’s gotten to people,' Dr. Kassirer said. "
It's about time, I'd say. Medical researchers and other scientists may delude themselves into believing their opinions can't be bought, but research has repeatedly found that even such seemingly trivial gifts as pens and pads can have a significant impact.