Big Pharma Shill

In the course of challenging the claims of the anti-vaccination movement, I (and a great many fine people before me) have been called several choice words and have witnessed some rather odd conclusions being jumped to. One which crops up frequently is that we are ‘big pharma shills’ and/or ‘lackeys for the drug companies’, implying that we have a close relationship with one or several pharmaceutical companies which are not disclosed and that we are being rewarded for promoting their agenda or products.

This seems to be a common form of libel used by some members of anti-vax groups to discredit or cast aspersions on those who disagree with them, suggesting corruption, greed and underhanded behaviour. It is directed at individuals and groups and happens with enough frequency that it’s almost background noise. I am familiar with anti-vax individuals who pepper their comments and tweets with the term ‘shill’ as though it were punctuation.

I question whether there is much point challenging these claims. Personally, I don’t appreciate the suggestion that I don’t conduct myself with integrity, but in the grand scheme of things, I can cop it on the chin. It’s less troubling than being told that I’m poisoning or killing my children by vaccinating them and it’s coming from people who frankly don’t have a great effect on my self worth.

Other than clearly refuting these claims (which again is a matter of trust that I am being honest) or requesting evidence from those making the accusations (of which there is none), I have been unable to conceive of any way to challenge them. Taken to absurd lengths, I could submit to having my finances investigated, but a clear record could be met with suggestions that I am receiving cash in hand, goods or other benefits, or the auditor could be accused of being corrupt and in on the conspiracy, as could a private investigator.

As there is no way to completely disprove (or prove) these claims, it may be better to focus on whether anybody beyond the echo chamber of conspiracy theorist anti-vax sub-groups actually finds these claims in any way believable or compelling.

My suspicion is that rather than the intended outcome, being that the person challenging anti-vax claims is being discredited, the cries of ‘shill’ and ‘lackey’ mostly serve to suggest to the wider public that the person making said claims is prone to jumping to conclusions, attacking the integrity of the person challenging them rather than addressing the topic at hand and/or valuing their personal hypotheses over evidence based claims. If so, I think that I can accept being subjected to a tirade of ‘shill’ and ‘lackey’ every now and then if it serves to further discredit the anti-vax movement.

What do you perceive the effects of these claims to be? Comment is most welcome.

Further reading:
The “Pharma-Shill Gambit” – Respectful Insolence
Thrills, Spills and Big Pharma Shills – Subspecies (demonstrating a point I didn’t touch on, that the suggestion that those with financial or other links to ‘Big Pharma’ behave unethically is pretty darn offensive and inaccurate also)
We, Pharma Shills – The Poxes Blog (an excellent outline of how absurd the pharma shill conspiracy theory is)

Addit: Oh, alright. No, I do not have a relationship with any pharmaceutical company beyond the over the counter analgesics I take when my back is particularly bad or the vaccines that have been administered to myself and my family. I’m fortunate enough not to have any need for prescription medication at the moment and when it’s a viable option, I prefer to alter my lifestyle to manage health troubles rather than go on medication. If it’s recommended though, I have no objection to taking medication and I have a great deal of gratitude that it’s around to help us maintain the best level of wellness possible, particularly when I consider the alternative.

My experience is that those in the anti-anti-vax and skeptic communities that I have interacted with have a strong belief that pharmaceutical companies should be held to the highest standards and are well deserving of criticism when ethical standards are breached. A fine example of this willingness to examine non-evidence based medical claims and question whether behaviour and methods are ethical and effective is demonstrated by public health advocate Dr Ken Harvey, who critically examines and holds to account the big pharmaceutical companies, shonky products and the Australian Vaccination Network alike.

If those who believe that the people who spend their time and expertise devoted to reading, writing, examining and challenging misinformation and behaviour which is dangerous to the public’s health are motivated by greed or are behaving with a lack of integrity, I can only assume that this is indicative of the way they they view the world. Dim indeed.



    1. This means that you’ve been accused of being a big pharma shill for my entire adult life. I hope that you’re getting little commemorative hat pins for each decade of service.

  1. Hard to deny my shill status. Every time I take proven scientific drugs I have failed to get polio, small pox, etc and have gotten over the illness I was experiencing. How dare I take proven treatments and vaccines!

  2. I have never had a check land in my lap from Big Phama, or even little phama. But in the interest of full disclosure I must admit that Big Pharma has saved my life.

    Three times.

    At least.

    If it weren’t for those terrible medications that Big Pharma pushes on us hapless masses I would not be here. When I was 28 I started getting terrible hayfever. Not the “oh my nose is ichy” kind but the “I can’t breath take me to hospital” kind. My body has decided that a particular kind of pollen is worth going into anaphalactic shock for like it’s the Beatles of something. I also have a hyated-hernia which means I’m prone to terrible acid reflux, this might not sound like a big deal but believe me without the medication I take which Big Pharma has the cheek to charge me for I my life would be agonizing. And when I was 21 I had cancer. Once again Big Pharma was there to give me Chemo.
    So no I’m not being paid by Big Pharma but maybe I am a shill, money isn’t the only currency maybe I feel I owe them my life.
    And maybe I should but in all honesty I don’t I have the same issues with large Pharmaceutical company’s that I do with most large corporations. They are far from perfect. Maybe I don’t think that Doctors should get spivs to spruke a particular medication to patients. Maybe I think that they do other things wrong to that I’m too lazy to go into.
    But I draw the line at yelling conspiracy and I don’t only “feel” I know that those drugs help people, after all I am typing this.

    1. I can’t help wondering how people who believe that mainstream medicine is unnecessary and corrupt would react to your experiences. The same way I tend to react when someone claims that homoeopathy cured their child’s autism?

      Three cheers for big pharma, those who are paid by them to research the treatments which helped you and those who pushed their products on you as they cared for you when you were in need!

      Also, I had no idea you’d been through so much. Glad that you’re doing okay.

  3. I think the shrill cries are actually useful. Because at that point, no further discussion is necessary. Thank you for proving you believe in conspiracy theories, the sane adults can now move on to something else.

    1. Freedom of speech certainly has its merits!

      Good to hear from you – I came across your blog long ago (well before I had a WordPress account to say hello with) and think that it is fantastic.

  4. The cry of “shill” is most often made by people who are heavily emotionally or financially vested in some crankery (antivax, homeopathy, quack cancer cures and so on). In virtually every case it is simply projection. One of the more interesting examples is the allegations made against Edzard Ernst. It turns out that actually “Big Sugar” was paying a journalist €43,000 per year to rubbish Ernst, so the truth was the exact opposite of the claim.

    Several people are trying to persuade me that Twitter is awash with pharma shills. When pressed for twitter names they reply that “they are out there”. These people don’t do evidence, else they would not be cranks, so I fall back on the motto of the Royal Society: “nullius in verba”. Take no man’s word for it.

    1. Thanks for your comment – I’m sorry that it took so long to approve, it took a detour via WordPress’ spam folder.

      The people I most hear ‘pharma shill’ cries from are a little more specific – apparently many people associated with ‘Stop the Australian Vaccination Network’ are being paid off. Not that it alters the evidence one iota, it just turns it into a slur against a specific group rather than hinting at a less specific conspiracy.

      It serves as a tactic to avoid addressing that which SAVN are criticising, but on the up side, it’s also distracting them from their attempts to spread anti-vax information also.

      Your blog is on my reading list – thanks again for commenting.

  5. Thanks for linking to my Big Pharma Shill piece. It doesn’t really matter to them. It’s easy for them to make this accusation. If you want to defend it, you’d be having to prove a negative. How do you prove that you’re NOT a pharma shill? Tax records that can be altered? Bank statements that can be omitted? You’d be fighting an uphill battle each and every time that someone called you a pharma shill. And for what?

    Great post. I’ve linked to your blog from mine.

    1. Thanks so much. I’ve linked to yours also – I hope that that’s a small nudge toward keeping it going, if you’re still questioning whether you should. I think that you write in an engaging manner and cover interesting and important topics.

  6. I too started by thinking that doctors and big pharma were generally good, I think its natural to trust people. But personal experience with doctors, and when I started really digging into numbers and behaviours(by digging in I mean looking for original source material myself not just accepting others claims), I drastically changed my mind. Fluoride(fluoride is marketed by pharma companies) and Thimerasol are probably the easiest to take down. Sodium Fluoride, like apple pie and motherhood. So what is the reaction of fluoride and stomach acid(HCL)? Google the reaction between SF and HCL if you don’t know the chemistry(although often the fluoride used is hexafluorosilicic acid the resultant product is the same). HF(hydrofluoric acid) is the result. Google HF or hydrofluoric acid and try to find anyone who says anything good about touching or ingesting it (It eats glass). Meanwhile the CDC who recommends fluoride, has nice info showing 41% of 12-15 year olds have mild or worse fluorosis(one of the negative effects of fluoride on teeth)this is up from 10% in the sixties. The EPA says fluoride is a neurotoxin.

    Thimerasol breaks down to ethyl mercury. The claim is that it is(or rather was because they’ve largely stopped using it) harmless. First its a very simple thing that a doctor or nurse can forget to shake up the bottle and so give a child a fat dose of ethyl mercury.Studies have been done that have found that doctors only wash their hands around 40% of the times they are supposed to so this isn’t very far fetched. Well seed corn is covered in ethyl mercury as well, and numerous times unscrupulous people have sold it as food, or given it to animals. Poisoning ensued. Google “seed poisoning ethyl mercury” to see studies done on those poisonings. and see if after reading about it you believe Big Pharmas claim that its a harmless substance that should have been injected into babies.

    Looking at studies can be bad because there are so many ways to game them, from outright fraud(there are self reported studies showing an epidemic increase in fraud) to not publishing studies(50% aren’t published), to publishing studies many years late(so that you’ve sold tons of drugs first before bad news about your drug comes out). These aren’t the behaviors of an industry concerned about the welfare of people as much as the profits it can squeeze out by hook or by croock.

    I hope you noticed that none of the above links are anti pharma websites, all are either government or independent websites, or your own research through google. The more I look the more Pharma dirt I find.

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