Wikipedia: Big Pharma’s Propaganda Machine

Wikipedia: Big Pharma Machine

Progressive Radio Network March 28, 2019

Every day, hundreds of millions if not billions of people worldwide wake up suffering from various maladies. From heart disease, depression, cancer, diabetes, obesity, inflammatory conditions and the ravages of aging, including dementia, memory loss, and Alzheimer’s. In the US and Western Europe, the vast majority of those individuals, if they can afford it, seek out mainstream orthodox medical treatment. Even when these therapies produce no improvement or actually cause greater impairment, patients continue to believe in the underlying principle that their doctor knows best and what that doctor is providing represents the latest in proven scientific efficacy and safety standards for treatment.

In only two countries in the world – the US and New Zealand – every day, millions are conditioned to believe that the drugs they see advertised on TV are the preferred drugs of medical science – irrespective of their known side effects. Any questioning of whether this is truly the proper approach to disease prevention and treatment is anathema in the eyes of authority. At every level of our society, there are firewalls and gatekeepers protecting the medical-pharmaceutical-industrial complex. There are more than 900,000 physicians in the US. There are several million scientists working for government agencies and universities subsidized by government, in addition to unknown numbers working for Big Pharma. All are ostensibly pursuing the development of medications and applications that will help the patient.

But what if these therapies, drugs or procedures weren’t actually supported by quality controlled studies, double-blind placebo-controlled trials, and most importantly reproducible results data, with patients reporting their conditions had been reversed or improved without serious side effects? Surely such a scandal would dominate both lay media and scientific journals? To make sure there is no dissent in the scientific ranks – that everyone is onboard and there is only one dominant medical model – US states have medical boards. No matter how many mistakes you make, no matter how many patients injured or killed on your watch, as long as you are using approved medical methods you’re indemnified: you will not lose your medical license unless you’re simply practicing objectively bad medicine. Any doctor who chooses to cure a patient using a different modality, however, especially if it’s natural and non-toxic, will immediately be attacked, no matter how successful the treatment. They will be brought up on charges of fraud and medical malfeasance and endangerment of the patient.
The logic holds that you’re either using currently accepted medical practice or you’re not. Curing or helping patients is no defense – it’s more important to uphold the protocols that medicine has designed in collaboration with Big Pharma, taught in medical school curricula, promoted in medical journals and sponsored right through to the consumer in advertisements. As a result, there are less than 3,000 physicians out of 900,000 who are using what is commonly known as holistic, complementary and alternative medicine. The problems are obvious.

Using only the criticisms and studies from orthodox medical science itself, we can see that the system has failed miserably and has been extraordinarily deadly in the process, killing more than 700,000 patients per year and disabling and injuring many more. But even those pharmaceutical companies found to be serial offenders – such as Merck and Johnson & Johnson – who knew full well the products they were offering to physicians were actually harming people are never held accountable beyond fines or settlements that amount to a fraction of their annual revenue. No one goes to jail; no one’s career is even ruined. If we criticize these companies and the physicians using their products, shame them and limit their ability to practice, perhaps 90% of American medicine would cease to exist.

How, then, are people to learn that there are natural ways of both preventing and treating diseases? Positive results from peer-reviewed studies of holistic therapies are commonplace in the Library of Medicine. On the subject of nutrition and supplements, there are over half a million articles available. But where can the average person – the patient who’s just received a disturbing diagnosis, or the healthy person who wants to take steps now to prevent disease later – find this information? Most people go to Google, which sends them to Wikipedia, the largest, most successful and significant firewall ever built to deter the casual browser from ever wanting to try any alternative therapies. Non-pharmaceutical treatments for diseases from arthritis to asthma, treatments and practitioners alike condemned out of hand as “lunatic charlatans” by Wikipedia’s co-founder and spiritual father Jimmy Wales along with his Skeptic palace guard.

Faced with such categorical dismissals of entire disciplines of healing, what is the likelihood that an individual will give them a chance? You’d think the vast majority of Americans were throwing out their prescriptions and running out to buy herbs. This is clearly not the case – Americans spent $3.5 trillion in 2017 on orthodox treatments. But where are the cures for AIDS, cancer, heart disease, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis? Alternative therapies have produced major improvements in all of these, but you won’t hear about them on Wikipedia. The “encyclopedia anyone can edit” has set itself up as the PR spokesperson for the entire medical-industrial complex. While one might assume the editors’ ultra-orthodox zeal – similar to what you’d find in a cult – would be supported by reams of high-quality reproducible data, posted by deeply qualified people with clinical laboratory experience in the fields they criticize, one would be wrong. Instead, one finds self-styled Skeptics with nary a clinical round between them – a retired portrait photographer, a ghost-hunter debunker, an “academic neurologist” who doesn’t actually see patients but has no trouble weighing in on how they should be treated.

Nearly a million Americans are dead each year due to the failures of orthodox medicine, so it’s a good thing they’re rewarded for their efforts and not their results. Don’t blame us; blame the disease. Wikipedia is luring in curious people who ask legitimate questions about medical conditions, leading them into the heart of orthodox pharmaceutical-based medicine and convincing them that no further inquiry is necessary. If this was where it ended, this would just be merely reckless reporting, but we find it’s worse.

We believe the very companies whose drugs are being promoted in Wikipedia articles happen to be the same companies donating to the Wikimedia Foundation. We also find the National Institutes of Health, the regulator wholly captured by Big Pharma, is involved in editing Wikipedia to such an extent that the agency’s own website has a step by step guide to doing so effectively without setting off alarm bells in other editors who may be wary of conflicts of interest.

Wikipedia has gone far beyond setting itself up as the champion of orthodox pharmaceutical-based medicine, insisting that “Big Pharma” is a wholly benevolent, noble force for scientific progress. Its Skeptic editorial elite also denigrate anyone who thinks differently as believers in a risible “Big Pharma conspiracy theory.” Wikipedia has several articles devoted to mocking this canard, sparing no laughs at the expense of those poor benighted folks who believe that pharmaceutical conglomerates have anything other than their best interests in mind. Those who doubt the forward march of science deserve no better than to be crushed beneath its boots – and those who persist in clinging to the “old wives’ tales” of alternative medicine are to be scorned above all. “Pharmanoia” is defined on Wikipedia as the belief that “pharmaceutical companies represent an all-powerful, profit-oriented entity that either directly controls, or works with government regulatory agencies to the detriment of the general consumer.”

There is nothing particularly controversial about such a statement, and Wikipedia’s need to pathologize those who regard it as truth speaks more about their own insecurities than anything else. Just because you’re “pharmanoid,” doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. Someone suffering from pharmanoia might, for example, suspect a whole coven of GlaxoSmithKline employees of editing Wikipedia as part of an initiative coordinated with Google. They’d be right – this happened in 2010, when several dozen GSK employees created Wikipedia entries as part of the Health Speaks Initiative, designed to flood the non-English-language encyclopedias with the same “high-quality health information” that dominates the English-language version.

Participants even generated 3 cents in charitable donations per word translated from English pharma-speak to Swahili or Arabic pharma-speak. But simply being right is no defense against charges of Big Pharma conspiracy theorizing. One could point out the Medtronic employees who aggressively edited the articles on vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty, medical procedures of dubious therapeutic value that employ the company’s star devices. These conflict-of-interest edits only became public because the small band of editors paid by the medical device manufacturer ran afoul of James Heilman, a Wikipedia trustee who’s also a medical doctor.

And even Heilman – a true believer in most aspects of medical orthodoxy, including vaccines and psychiatric drugs – seems to be afflicted with a touch of pharmanoia. “I do not consider the goals of the pharmaceutical companies to be educating people about pharmaceuticals,” he told the Atlantic, admitting he’d been on the receiving end of communications from dozens of pharma companies including Glaxo, Alexion Pharmaceuticals, IMS Health, and others who had eagerly requested information from him about Wikipedia’s procedures for adding medical content.

If Wikipedia’s own resident physician doesn’t believe in the integral goodness of Big Pharma, what hope is there for the rest of us? Never fear, the Skeptic brigade is working overtime to mischaracterize popular distrust of these corporations as something naïve and irrational. They’re unable to deny the first ‘claim’ made by proponents of this “conspiracy theory” – “Big Pharma TM just wants to maximize its profits at the expense of the general consumer” – but they try to deflect from this inconvenient truth by claiming all non-pharmaceutical healers are similarly motivated solely by profits, as if – all things being equal – Big Pharma’s products didn’t kill hundreds of thousands of people every year, vs homeopathic remedies, for example, killing exactly zero individuals. What was it the Hippocratic oath said? “First, do no harm”? Wikipedia’s parent foundation, the Wikimedia Foundation, openly collaborates with the National Institutes of Health, one of the many US “captured regulators” that enable Big Pharma’s dominance of the health sphere today. The “How to edit Wikipedia” page for NIH staffers helpfully points out that the Foundation actually has a volunteer-staffed switchboard specifically set up for NIH editors.

In 2012, the NIH launched its “new therapeutic uses” program in conjunction with Pfizer, Eli Lilly and AstraZeneca to find new uses for old drugs – generic molecules that may have fallen off patent and ceased to be of interest to the profit-driven drug companies can be picked up by NIH researchers, applied to novel medical mysteries, and joyfully re-patented as new therapies. Everybody wins! Notably, it was this process that gave the world AZT, a failed chemotherapy drug considered too toxic to give to cancer patients but somehow just right for those suffering from AIDS in which hundreds of thousands would die.

In the internet age, such partnerships essentially give Big Pharma carte blanche to edit Wikipedia in their NIH capacity – conflict of interest problem solved! It is part of the “Big Pharma conspiracy theory” to suggest that large pharmaceutical companies operate “against the public good,” yet this is precisely what they are caught doing, again and again. GlaxoSmithKline has alledgedly paid for prestigious studies to show its drugs are safe, even when they are not. A 2012 article in the New England Journal of Medicine purported to show GSK’s diabetes drug Avandia was superior to three other medications while concealing the fact it had been associated with 83,000 heart attacks and deaths – and those were just the FDA’s numbers. Of 11 study authors, four were actual GSK employees, while seven had received research grants or consulting fees from the company.

In 2012, GSK agreed to pay out $3 billion for off-label drug promotion, failure to report safety data, and kickbacks to physicians – the largest-ever healthcare fraud case and the largest drug company settlement to date. Is it conspiracy theory to call GSK a bad actor? Are we to believe it is no more than coincidence that a panel of scientists paid by a drug company to generate favorable studies for that drug company might have concealed adverse effects in order to keep the gravy train running, or that doctors took bribes in the form of hunting trips and spa treatments to prescribe dubiously effective drugs? If GSK was interested in the public good before profits, why did it take the intervention of the Department of Justice to impose a “corporate integrity agreement” banning the kickbacks and ending prescription targets for sales reps?

The Washington Post looked at 73 NEJM articles on new drugs approved since 2000 and found 60 had been funded by a pharmaceutical company. Fifty were actually co-written by pharma employees, while 37 featured a lead author who’d received money from the drug company at some point, whether through consulting or speaker fees or research grants. One of those NEJM articles was a glowing review of notorious Merck arthritis drug Vioxx. The drug manufacturer not only funded the clinical trial but removed three heart attacks in patients taking the medication from the raw clinical data, permitting the disingenuous conclusion that Vioxx’s cardiovascular adverse effects only struck those patients with preexisting heart trouble. Merck ghostwrote 20 glowing articles about its blockbuster drug under the names of respected scientists, publishing them in multiple journals, even though they knew about the heart attack risk of the drug as early as November 1996.

Dr. Gurkipal Singh, adjunct clinical professor of medicine at Stanford University, testified in a congressional hearing that he had read emails between Merck scientists in which they argued over whether to include patients taking aspirin in clinical trials. One scientist felt the aspirin might “negate the gastrointestinal benefits of rofecoxib,” while the other made the comment that forbidding aspirin use would cause patients to have more heart attacks, which would “kill the drug.” “Better to kill the drug than to kill the patient,” Singh said, denouncing Merck’s choice not to undertake a cardiovascular outcome study as a “marketing decision” – the institutional turning of a blind eye to heart attack and stroke risk.

Five years, 55,000 deaths, and hundreds of thousands of heart attacks after the drug was approved, Merck’s malfeasance should prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Big Pharma values profits over patients. Among the many devious practices Merck deployed to get its arthritis drug in as many medicine cabinets as possible were so-called “seeding trials,” considered ethically dubious because they deceive patients and doctors alike as to their true nature. Merck seeded Vioxx through a trial purporting to evaluate its gastrointestinal side effect profile vs. naproxen, but the ultimate purpose was to familiarize physicians with it – for trial administrators to “gain experience with Vioxx prior to and during the critical launch phase” in which the drug would be rolled out to the public.

Merck even nominated the employees who’d drawn up the trial for an internal marketing award – one which they well deserved, given that the drug was pulling in $2.5 billion annually before its reign was so rudely curtailed by the reality of a mounting pile of corpses. Wikipedia’s article on Merck reflects a struggle between attempts to whitewash Vioxx’s history and attempts to hold the company accountable. The “Vioxx” subsection claims the company began warning patients about cardiovascular side effects in 2002; a “citation needed” tag reflects the dubious reality of that assertion. There is no mention of the company’s foreknowledge of the drug’s adverse effects – instead, the article claims the adverse effect reports began only after the drug was approved by the FDA in 1999 – but the text does mention the infamous internal emails discussing the need to “neutralize” and “discredit” Vioxx-skeptical doctors: “We may need to seek them out and destroy them where they live.” Yet in the mind of Wikipedia’s Skeptics, believing in Big Pharma’s corporate malfeasance is “cynical and intellectually lazy.”

Wikipedia even seeks to dispel claims that pharmaceutical companies suppress negative research about their products using financial pressure – a widespread industry phenomenon that most scientists, journals, and regulatory agencies acknowledge and lament while trying to fix the problem to a greater or lesser extent. Financial pressure is only one tool in Pharma’s arsenal for tweaking the results of clinical trials, at any rate – the industry pays for over half the studies conducted every year and can weigh in on every step of the process, from experimental design, to hiring “friendly” scientists, to choosing not to publish at all. Industry-funded papers are regularly challenged by independent researchers, particularly where they purport to showcase wonder drugs. Entire treatment paradigms since adopted as medical orthodoxy, such as the serotonin-imbalance model of depression, have arisen from faulty or fudged studies, and it is difficult to stop a pharmaceutical juggernaut like Prozac or Paxil once it has taken off.

Even when later, more cautious studies and reviews show no therapeutic benefits and very real harms, including increased risk of suicide and even homicide, Paxil continues to fly off the shelves.
Pharmaceutical companies control the vast majority of advertising in the scientific literature, so any suggestion they do not have some financial clout in what is published borders on the absurd. A lot is riding on Big Pharma’s positive image on Wikipedia. A 2015 study of the most frequently visited disease-specific Wikipedia pages found a clear relationship between page visits and prescriptions for related medications – meaning a significant number of visitors to a particular disease page were researching their own diagnosis or that of a family member. Since most internet users begin their research journeys on any topic with a Google search, which typically leads to Wikipedia, this is no surprise – indeed, this is one of the reasons Skeptics fight so fiercely to control Wikipedia’s medical articles. These pages, properly curated, have the potential to act as top-notch pharmaceutical advertisements, so long as they can be kept clean of undesirable information about Big Pharma.

The pharmaceutical companies – Pfizer, Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb – then donate to the Wikimedia Foundation, and the circle is complete.
At what point can we concede conspiracy theory has become conspiracy fact?