KOL Phollywood

I have wondered many times about the proliferating offers I've received in increasing numbers in recent years for medical symposia, talks, conferences, etc. that appear either subtly or overtly geared to promote some treatment or product for a disease area.

Roy Poses' post "Key Opinion Leader Services Companies: the Creation of Useful Idiots and Usefully Idiotic Organization" would appear to help explain this phenomenon.


At my Aug. 2009 post "Has Ghostwriting Infected The Experts With Tainted Knowledge, Creating Vectors for Further Spread and Mutation of the Scientific Knowledge Base?" here I wrote:

... Will we ever be able to peel back all the layers of the ghostwriting onion to get to the core of impartial and objective scientific articles related to drugs and medical devices? Perhaps not, but the practice must stop going forward.

Tainted literature creates tainted scientific knowledge, the carriers of which may then further taint the knowledge base (with the best of intentions and with firm belief in the fairness and accuracy of their activities, of course).

Practitioners of evidence-based medicine may be unwittingly practicing "evidence-tainted medicine", or "pseudo-evidence based medicine" as described by others on this blog.

We now learn that an entire industry exists to identify, catalog, index social networks, and do other data mining to quantify "KOL suitability factors", and then interact with pharma and surely other healthcare sectors to launch and "nurture" people so identified, as Hollywood might do to identify actors for a movie. It thus seems the situation with regard to medical science might be even worse than I thought.

I ask:

  • Can we ever fully trust information given at medical presentations, especially by "popular", even well-published physicians any more?
  • Can we truly trust any medical literature, period?

Even worse - do pharmas and other healthcare sectors use these services not just to identify what might be called "positive" KOLS to be seduced and romanced and deployed to spread the company's charms, but also to identify "negative" KOLs (with messages not to the liking of the industry) to be marginalized?

Finally, I coin a new term for this circle jerk of pharma KOL 'services companies' (a.k.a. KOL peddlers), KOL handlers and KOL promoters:


-- SS

Jan 12, 2011 addendum:

See the post "A Massive Cynical Effort" at the blog of 1BoringOldMan for interesting observations about these issues.