Evidence, Please.

Big Pharma Shill

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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.

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