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Wednesday 31 May 2017

Big Business and the use of Social Media Trolls

The Natural News website has recently run an article about Monsanto being caught running a 'troll farm' in order "to smear ..... anyone questioning the fake science behind GMO's". They dislike the safety of their 'Roundup' herbicide being questioned, and apparently, new court documents (arising from 50 lawsuits against the company) have revealed that "... Monsanto has a troop of trolls at its disposal who are paid to scour the internet for those speaking ill of its toxic wares and then counter their warnings with false studies that support their products."

The lawsuits are being taken by people who developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma because of their exposure to Roundup, and the Monsanto has hidden the risks of the herbicide. One document is quoted in the material revealed.

               "Monsanto even started the aptly-named ‘Let Nothing Go’ program to leave nothing, not even Facebook comments, unanswered; through a series of third parties, it employs individuals who appear to have no connection to the industry, who in turn post positive comments on news articles and Facebook posts, defending Monsanto, its chemicals, and GMOs." (My emphasis).

It is good that this has been revealed. Perhaps it will lead to a recognition that many large industrial and commercial conglomerates hire trolls in the same way. The pharmaceutical industry certainly does so, and also supports organisations such as 'Sense about Science', the 'Good Thinking Society' to defend their products, and to attack any medical therapy that might compromise their business, their monopoly within most national health services, and their profits. Indeed, much of what the Natural Health article says about Monsanto is applicable to the efforts of Big Pharma.

               "... internal emails showed that the evil firm enlisted staffers to ghost write studies that falsely portray its products as safe, even going so far as to pay experts like scientists to sign their names at the end to lend a false air of authenticity."

Apparently, Monsanto has an entire department devoted to discrediting scientists, and smearing journalists who dare suggest that its products are dangerous, and are causing harm to users. When, in 2015, the World Health Organizstion’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) stated that glyphosate probably causes non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, one of the firm's executives admitted that it had a whole department devoted to “debunking” legitimate science that made its products look bad!

Eventually, this will discredit the companies, and the industries who engage in such activity. But worse, it will also damage the reputation and credibility of science itself. Many troll organisations, like those I have mentioned above, actually claim to support science!

It indicates that large corporate bodies, that dominate the political and commercial establishments, are aware that their products cause harm to its users, but are prepared to misinform, lie, and deceive to maintain their business and their profits.

And it would appear that the trolls we hear from on social media are on their payroll!

Patient Support Charities. Not all they seem?

Learning that we have contracted a serious illness can be a testing time, a time when we look for support and guidance. This is the basis of the growth of patient support and health charities: if there is a serious illness, there is now almost certainly a health charity that focuses on it. What could be better at such a difficult time?

  • People who have gone through similar experiences, to help them cope? 
  • What is the best treatment?
  • What treatments work? What treatments do not work?
Yet this simple equation is not as easy or as straightforward as it might appear. The Pharmaceutical companies understand their importance, and they have decided that they are a good way of investing money to promote their business interests.

I wrote about the issue in July 2013. There has now been further research into the scale of the problem.

               "Everyone's in the pay of Big Pharma, it seems, as new surveys reveal that doctors and patient advocacy group are getting payouts every year - and the only one in the dark is you, the patient".

This is the conclusion of a WDDTY article (May 2017), which refers to J Gen Intern Med, 2017; doi: 10.1007/s11606-017-4012-3, and N Engl J Med, 2017, 376: 880-5. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania analyzed the finances of 104 patient support charities, and found that
  • 85% admitted to getting funding from drug companies
  • Of the remaining 15%, only 1 group did not receive funding from the health industry - the rest did not reveal their pharmaceutical connections!
The lead researcher, Genevieve Pham-Kanter, of Dexel university, came to this conclusion:

               "Drug companies have long known that even small gifts to physicians can be influential, and research validates the notion that they tend to induce feelings of reciprocity. But the more generous payouts are made to patient advocacy groups. Some receive up to $7.5 million in donations from Big Pharma, and a $1 million donation is not unusual".

WDDTY concluded, quite correctly, this such financial support creates a conflict of interest as many of these group advocate the use of specific drugs, or lobby regulators to get a new drug approved, whilst maintaining the fiction that it is "all for the benefit of the patient".

Of course, it is not for the benefit of patients, it is for the benefit of the drug companies, who do not spend their money unless and until they know it is a good investment! It raises an important question. How much can we trust patient support groups and health charities? The answer must be - not very much at all!

This is not new news. Nor is it news about which the mainstream media is unaware. For instance, BBC News, via the Victoria Derbyshire programme, looked into the activities of one such charity, the Hepatitis C Trust, in March 2017. It stated:

               "A charity that tried to force the NHS to buy more of an expensive hepatitis C treatment received large amounts of money from the drug's manufacturer. The Hepatitis C Trust has taken £200,000 in grant funding from US drugs giant Gilead since 2014. Last year, it unsuccessfully took NHS England to court for restricting access to the medicine on cost grounds."

Of course, the charity denied being influenced by the drugs industry, and said that it had always acted in the interests of patients.

The background to the story began in 2015 when NICE ruled it was cost-effective compared with older medicines, and NHS England set aside an extra £200m a year to pay for the drug, Sovaldi. This drug was manufactured by Gilead. It had a list price of £34,983 for a 12-week course! So the donation the drug company was making to the Hepatitis C Trust was well worth the money! 

And in addition, as far as the public was concerned, the court case had nothing to do with the pharmaceutical industry, who played no part in it. It was that 'mean' NHS, being challenged by a nice, well-intentioned charity, who only had the best interests of their patients at heart!

In such ways does the pharmaceutical industry work to generate its profits!

So what is this drug, Sovaldi. The BBC article, as usual, outlines how effective it is, straight from the drug manufacturer's publicity! It is "95% effective at curing the disease within eight weeks" we are told. If it was as effective as this the £35,000 seems a good deal! It is strange that Hepatitis C still exists, given such effectiveness! So perhaps NICE were aware of the side effects of the drug. They can be found here.

The public are being seriously misinformed about health, and the treatment of health. The conventional medical establishment is certainly not telling us the truth. The mainstream media is not telling us the whole truth. And it would appear that most patient support charities are speaking to us according to the donations they receive from the pharmaceutical industry.

Wednesday 3 May 2017

The Nosebo Effect. The nonsense of medical science?

Pharmaceutical drugs do NOT cause side effects! It's just that patients think they will cause them, so they experience them!

This is the new wisdom from the conventional medical establishment, as reported in the Lancet today (3rd May 2017). Researchers at Imperial College London, undertaking research funded by several pharmaceutical companies, including Pfizer, found that "patients on statins are more likely to suffer side effects as a result of the ‘expectation of harm’ rather than the drugs themselves". The study follows up a 2014 review that suggested that "very few" of the side effects reported in statin users are down to the drug itself.

This is called the 'nocebo' effect - the expectation of side effects makes patients more likely to report them. The leader of the study, Professor Peter Sever, from the National Heart and Lung Institute, is quoted as saying that the nosebo effect can be very strong.

               "This is not a case of people making up symptoms, or that the symptoms are 'all in their heads'. Patients can experience very real pain as a result of the nocebo effect and the expectation that drugs will cause harm. What our study shows is that it’s precisely the expectation of harm that is likely causing the increase in muscle pain and weakness, rather than the drugs themselves causing them."

As the GP magazine, Pulse, says, this comes after one recent study found that stroke survivors were quitting their statins due to intolerable side effects. THEY ARE, OF COURSE, WRONG! They experienced 'intolerable side effects' only because they expected to experience them! Nothing to do with the drug! More to do with the Patient Information Leaflet that comes with the drug. One doctor has already asked the obvious question:

               "Should patient information inserts be removed for causing increased side effects??"

Indeed, the researchers have said that many people will have died because they stopped taking them. Statin drugs prevent strokes and heart disease by lowering cholesterol, but no mentioned was made of another recent study that has found that when the records of patients dying from strokes and heart disease were examined, it made no difference whether they were on statins or not!

There are several benefits for the conventional medical establishment arising from this research, and the idea of the nosebo effect:

  • Doctors will now be able to tell patients that side effects are not caused by the drug, but by their expectations. It has been estimated that only 10% of drug side effects are reported now! After this study reporting will no doubt fall even lower, resulting in even less evidence that pharmaceutical drugs cause harm to patients.
  • There will be a strong case made not to tell patients the possible side effects of pharmaceutical drugs and vaccines, because this is likely to cause the reporting of side effects! There will be even less information for patients, and 'informed choice' will take a back seat!
  • The pharmaceutical companies will be able to sell more drugs, and doctors will be able to prescribe more of them because they will know now that they don't cause side effects, it is all part of patient expectation!
Discovering drug side effects is slow enough now. Drugs are tested, approved to be safe by drug regulators, and given to patients for many years before they are round. It will become slower now!

Yet there is another problem. Statin drugs have been found to cause a wide variety of serious side effects. Many other studies have found that they cause not only muscle pain and weakness, but Parkinsons disease, diabetes, liver dysfunction, kidney failure, and cataracts. Were these diseases also caused by the nosebo effect? So are there patients masquerading around out there with Parkinsons because they expected to contract Parkinsons? Is the diabetes epidemic caused by Statin users who just feel they should have diabetes?

In addition, what has been wrong with the many 'scientific' studies that have previously linked Statins with muscle pain over recent decades? Why have they been accepted for so many years? Did they get it wrong? Why can these studies suddenly be overturned by a single (drug company financed) study? If they can be overturned so easily does this conflicting science (yet again) bring into question the validity of medical science, and in particular of randomised controlled testing?

When difficult questions arise within the conventional medical establishment we always need to follow the money! The pharmaceutical companies are in a bad way. Their credibility is at stake, and many of their most profitable drugs failing. 
Indeed, many other pharmaceutical drugs are now being seriously questioned, either for their effectiveness or safety. And few new blockbusting drugs are coming through to replace them. Statins are one of the most profitable pharmaceutical drugs remaining. They could not allow patients to stop taking them because of the nasty side effects. They could not deny the side effects. So pharmaceutical money has paid for the promotion of the 'nosebo effect. It is a useful concept!

So, homeopathy works because of the 'placebo' effect. Patients think they will get better, so they do. And conventional medicine does not cause side effects, it is just the 'nosebo' effect.

We patients seem to be getting everything wrong! We need to listen more carefully to what 'medical science' is telling us, although only when it is funded by the pharmaceutical companies. They know best. We not only know nothing, what we think we know is wrong! 

Just shut up, all of you, and keep taking the tablets.

Post Script November 2020 
The nocebo nonsense continues! This MIMS article says that "Most Statin side effects down to 'nocebo' effect". This means that pharmaceutical medicine wants us to believe that we can develop diabetes, dementia, liver and kidney disease (and all the other 'side effects' known to be caused by these drugs) because we THINK we might get them IF we take Statin drugs!
Post Script January 2022

If we think this, why would we want to take them in the first place?