Last week, my post was entitled “Do Russians Always Cheat?” It was a piece delivered with sarcasm, but with a serious intent.
Its message: We have lost our ability to trust each other, and we need to fix it.
The response to the post was extraordinary, but sadly, some people thought that I was stereotyping Russians. They claimed I was lumping all Russians together rather than treating each person as an individual. This was really strange, because my post had nothing to do with Russia.
As I wrote in a comment: “To those who misinterpreted my reference to Russia, please allow me to make the record clear. In 1943, the Russia army liberated my parents from a Nazi-led forced labor camp in what is now known as Vilnius. The Russian people will forever have my undying gratitude in playing the central role in this miracle. If they had not done that, I would not be alive today.”
But this experience did get me to wonder about the phenomenon of stereotyping. Some people say that no one should ever engage in stereotyping. I agree.
But interestingly, on December 13, one reader who was displeased with my post provided the following comment: “I’m just curious what type of consultations the author gives to Amgen, AstraZeneca, Bayer, Boehringer Ingelheim, Cardiorentis, Daiichi Sankyo, Gilead, Novo Nordisk, Relypsa, Sanofi, Takeda, and ZS Pharma, etc …”
Another reader posted the comment: “Wonder who sponsored the article?”
Let me see if I understand. Someone reads my disclosures and realizes that I am a clinical investigator who works with pharmaceutical companies to help them design and analyze clinical trials. Most of the time, I give advice that they do not necessarily like. This is my primary interaction with the pharmaceutical industry. I do not give presentations to physicians that are sponsored by industry about any drug or device.
The fact that certain companies seek my advice should not be particularly surprising. And it should not be surprising that I am compensated for my time and effort for providing my insights.
But somehow, this interaction seems to offend certain people. They assume that I am merely a pawn for the interests of the private sector.
Am I being stereotyped?
Yes, I am being stereotyped, and the people who are doing it are precisely those who generally condemn stereotyping when they see other people do it.
So I guess I have several options available to me.
First, I could stop interacting with industry. If my advice has any value to those designing clinical trials, that advice would no longer be available to them. If every consultant did that, then industry would be on its own — without any external input or guidance. That would be awful.
Second, I could work with industry and do it for free. But most people think it is appropriate to be compensated for one’s time and effort. Furthermore, in my experience, companies do not listen very well to guidance that they do not pay for. That is why people pay to go to psychotherapists for advice they could easily have received for free.
Third, I could work with industry and receive payment for doing so, but I could not disclose these relationships. That would be unbelievably unethical and stupid.
So I am transparent about my relationships with industry. In truth, I am quite pleased that there are people who value my expertise. I think that my interactions with industry have had a major positive impact on human health. And I am very happy to tell anyone about it who wants to know.
But doing so means that there will be people who look at my disclosures and assume that I am biased by my financial ties.
Everyone who knows me already knows that I express my opinions openly. I have criticized nearly every aspect of medicine and health care. I am allowed to have and express opinions of my own, even though I help to design clinical trials and am compensated for doing so.
But if you live in a dark cynical world, you are going to look at my disclosures and commit the atrocity of stereotyping. Some who are reading this right now are certainly inclined to do so.
That is unbelievably hypocritical.
And no one paid me to say so.
Packer recently consulted for Amgen, AstraZeneca, Bayer, Boehringer Ingelheim, Cardiorentis, Daiichi Sankyo, Gilead, Novo Nordisk, Relypsa, Sanofi, Takeda, and ZS Pharma. He chairs the EMPEROR Executive Committee for trials of empagliflozin for the treatment of heart failure. He was previously the co-PI of the PARADIGM-HF trial and serves on the Steering Committee of the PARAGON-HF trial, but has no financial relationship with Novartis.