Adam Cresswell, the health editor at The Australian, has had a critical look at Crikey’s register of influence, and doesn’t quite like what he sees.
Writing in his regular Media Bites column in Australian Doctor magazine (the issue dated 28 November), Adam raises concerns that the register may simply create confusion rather than greater transparency about the ties between industry and key opinion leaders in the health industry.
One of his main concerns is that the register does not distinguish between those experts of pure intent (working altruistically to further a cause they genuinely think is important) and those who are motivated by $s, such as honoraria, research funding etc, or personal glory.
Interesting because I had a very similar discussion with the Crikey ed when we were discussing the idea for the register. My response to Mr Crikey was the same as it is now to Adam: that what really matters is not so much the intention of the experts, but the impact. Good intentions have, after all, caused plenty of harm throughout human history.
I am much less worried about why health professionals choose to lend their authority to industry marketing campaigns than I am about the impact of such campaigns in potentially distorting public debate, health policy and funding. There is a wealth of evidence that financial associations between industry and researchers have distorted both the nature and the output of much research.
So just to be clear, the Crikey register is not about identifying “goodies” or “baddies”. One of its aims is to help document the pervasiveness of the ties between industry marketing and key opinion leaders in the health sector – whether these be influential members of the general public, journalists, researchers, doctors or other health professionals.
While I might disagree with some of Adam’s arguments, I’m delighted to see him engaging with the issue, especially in such a pertinent forum. In so doing, he has helped fulfil one of the register’s aims – to generate awareness and discussion about these issues.