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Wednesday, September 20, 2006


In order to keep yourself honest you should admit your biases. I, for example, am biased against the drug industry. I believe that once they decide to put a drug in their pipeline they are no longer intested in the scientific method. The only thing that will stop them from moving the drug toward the market is if the safety data spells trouble or if a larger firm collaborates with a smaller company and decides not to go ahead with the deal. In many cases the smaller company will continue to pursue the drug because they have already made a heavy investment and they are not ready to give up yet.

I have that bias. I'm not alone however. There are people out there who think negative thoughts about the drug industry. There are those at the laboratory level, clinical trial level, and drug sales level. You name an aspect of the industry and there are detractors who are biased against the practices that they have witnessed first hand. The question is whether or not these biases are blinding us from the good that drug companies do. Not everyone is bad.

Here is a list of people whom I admire for speaking out against the industry (or at least are trying to be heard).

Me: Shy and afraid of being heard and put in the spotlight. Lab scientist who thinks that survival of the fittest in the drug business goes to those who have no relationship with the scientific method.

Gary Taubes and John Crewdson: Science writers who cover contraversial science issues.

Stewart and Feder: Former NIH scientists who transformed their careers into scientific bullshit detectives

Kathleen Slattery-Moschkau: Former drug sales person who exposed the drug industrys sales practices via a fictional film and a documentary. In the fictional film a drug sales lady explains that she gets doctors to prescribe her companys medicine. She has a degree in science... political science.

John Abramson M.D.: Actual medical doctor who became so fed up with the way medicine was being corrupted by the drug industry he wrote a book called "Overdosed America".

James Randi: This is my hero. Former magician who saw psychics and other charlatans making a killing off of cheap tricks that any amateur magician could easily explain. He is a true scientist. Most PhD scientists couldn't hold a candle to his experimental designs.

The bloggers; Pharma Gossip, Michael Lascelles, Aubrey Blumsohn, Peter Rost: All dedicated to acknowledging the Cargo Cult science of large corporations.

Alright, I'll stop there. There are plenty who are of the same mind as me. But if science were a political system, we have to admit that we are but one party. There are very honest people who disagree about things. AIDS research has people on both sides of that debate who are apparently serious about their convictions. Who is right? The Cargo Cult Scientist would like to see HIV studied more as a virus and less as a world wide enemy. Even amongst members of the same party, differences of opinion will arise. Since science is practiced by human beings we must admit that our biases are a source of strength but also a source of folly. It is a tricky rope to walk but one we must walk. This is where we find allies and foes alike. This is where we identify ourselves with ideas that others had before they entered our minds. How could we be wrong when others have the same thoughts? Biases are undeniable.

Bias is not something that we want shoved in our faces when we are argueing a point however. If you oppose the way Halliburton is billing the tax payers for the war you want to make sure that people don't think you are just sore about Bush and the war. If you know a right winger with the same opinion towards Halliburton you will be sure to point out that two people with different biases towards the war can have the same opinion towards the issue of Halliburtons billing policies. We use the biases of others against them so why would we suspect that others won't hold ours against us. The thing to do is to admit it right from the start and to explain how they do not affect what we think is happening. Whether or not I believe in Stan Prusiners prion theories does not have any affect on a mad cows demise from TSE.

The modern day politician wants you to believe that his bias is protecting the American people from evil doers. The modern day scientist wants you to believe that his bias is getting to the truth. We here at the Cargo Cult Scientist believe that a persons main bias is themselves. Their career goals, their family and their security interests dictate what biases they will have. There is nothing wrong with that as long as you are aware of what your biases are. Remember, biases can help and they can hurt. Don't ignore them, at least not to yourself.

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