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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Pink Ribbons Inc.

Breast cancer has become the poster child of corporate cause-related marketing campaigns. Countless women and men walk, bike, climb and shop for the cure. Each year, millions of dollars are raised in the name of breast cancer, but where does this money go and what does it actually achieve? Pink Ribbons, Inc. is a feature documentary that shows how the devastating reality of breast cancer, which marketing experts have labeled a "dream cause," becomes obfuscated by a shiny, pink story of success.
"Instead of saying what has come out of these investments, they tell you how much money they've put in." 
Pink Ribbons Inc.
The 2011 documentary Pink Ribbons Inc. highlights a microcosm of Cargo Cult Science. Right around 47 minutes into this video (per Netflix) they start to ask hard questions of the science being funded by the Pink Ribbons money makers. What has been done, with regards to understanding breast cancer, as a result of all of the money raised? We know that the Susan Koman walks and Avon pink ribbons have raised money, and made a lot of people happy. The real cargo however is the productivity of breast cancer research. The productivity cannot be measured by dollars raised.

Who are the scientists supported with money from the pink ribbon people? What are the scientists doing? Are they on to something intellecually? Scientifically? Are they busy raising money? Do they understand the disease? Why in the hell have they not taken notice of the Amgen paper its ultimate discovery of how much payed-for and publilshed cancer research is of any use?

The inability to reproduce the work of ourselves and others is our greatest enemy. As I've often said, honesty in research is akin to honesty in a crossword puzzle. Purposely publishing non-reproduced research means that you have little concern for overall outcome of the body of knowledge to which you are contributing. Yet in our current system, the consequences of being discovered as "non-reproducible" are easily brushed aside. Blame a tech, blame someone or something, but never admit that you jotted down the wrong word in our proverbial crossword, because it benefitted your career.

Susan Koman and the Pink Ribbon people are not bad people. They raise money and that is a good thing. Where they leave the righteous path of actually doing something about breast cancer (or any cancer) is directly at the point of handing that money over to a small group of scientists. At that point we leave it in their hands. We have no way of checking on the validity of their work. The money goes into the hands of a specialized class of people who have convinced the world that they have some god like understanding of what we need to figure out. This special class does not want anyone analyzing their work. They do not want an accounting of the work. Simply accept the final word, which always comes with the line, "more research will be needed". More money will be needed.

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