Thursday, November 18, 2021

The Science of Spin: Big Pharma Propaganda Techniques

IMO, industry uses psychology to get people to change their behavior far more effectively and scientifically than psychotherapists. In an article in Environmental Health, (2021; 20: 33. Goldberg and Vandenberg describe 28 unique tactics used by industries to manufacture doubt or confusion about science when it serves their interests. These messages are then frequently amplified by perpetuators of doubt – journalists, bloggers, citizen scientists, and lay-people – who, on their own without direct funding, unwittingly disseminate and spread pro-industry spin. The Pharma industry tactics used to manufacture doubt are:


Attack Study Design

Emphasize study design flaws in negative studies that have only minimal effects on outcomes. Flaws include issues related to bias, confounding, or sample size


Gain Support from Reputable Individuals

Recruit experts or influential people in certain fields (politicians, industry, journals, doctors, scientists, health officials) to defend their biases in order to gain broader support


Misrepresent Data

Cherry-pick data, design studies to fail, or conduct meta-analyses to dilute the work of critics


Suppress Incriminating Information

Hide information that runs counter to their interests


Contribute Misleading Literature

Use literature published in journals or the media to deliberately misinform, or use peripheral topics as a distraction


Host Conferences or Seminars

Organize conferences for scientists or relevant stakeholders to provide a space for dissemination of only information in line with their economic interests.


Avoid/Abuse Peer-Review

Avoid the peer-review process to publish poor literature, publish without revealing funding sources, use the journal name to add weight to claims, or minimize need for peer-review among lay audiences


Employ Hyperbolic or Absolutist Language

Discuss scientific findings in absolutist terms or with hyperbole, using buzzwords to differentiate between “strong” and “poor” science (i.e. sound science, junk science, etc.),


Blame Other Causes

Find related, alternative causes for any negative effects that are reported or observed


Invoke Liberties/Censorship/


Invoke laws to emphasize equality and rights for expression of their preferred data or interpretations thereof, despite differences in evidence quality


Define How to Measure Outcome/Exposure

Attempt to set guidelines for ‘proper’ measurement of exposures or outcomes, while undermining guidelines not in line with what they want.


Take Advantage of Scientific Illiteracy (media/individuals)

Emphasize scientific obscurity to confuse lay audiences, or deliberately disseminate unscientific or false but easily digestible information


Pose as a Defender of Health or Truth

Represent their goals as health-conscious or dedicated to truth


Obscure involvement

Ghostwrite, create shell companies, use attorney client privilege to hide the true source of their data 


Develop a PR Strategy

Devise methods for specifically reaching public audiences to spread their messages


Appeal to Mass Media

Appealing to journalistic balance, developing relationships with media personnel, preparing information for media personnel, invoking the Fairness Doctrine


Take Advantage of Victim’s Lack of Money/Influence

Silence or abuse critical individuals by out-spending or exploiting a power imbalance


Normalize Negative Outcomes

Normalize the presence of negative effects of their products to reduce their apparent importance and make them seem inevitable


Impede Government Regulation

Overwhelm governmental regulatory agencies to slow or stop their function


Alter Product to Seem Healthier

Make modifications to harmful product to reduce public appreciation of their negative effects


Influence Government/Laws

Gain inappropriate proximity to regulatory bodies and encourage pro-company policies


Attack Opponents (scientifically/personally)

Conduct targeted attacks on opponents by undermining their professional or personal reputations


Appeal to Emotion

Manipulate an audiences’ emotions to draw support for their claims in the absence of facts


Inappropriately Question Causality

Argue that correlation does not equal causation despite the presence of strong evidence


Make Straw Man Arguments

Publicly refute an argument that was not even made by the opposition


Abuse Credentials

Use qualifications in one discipline to assume authority in another discipline


Abuse Data Access Requests

Requesting access to data in order to misrepresent and attack, employing Shelby Amendment, Freedom of Information Act, etc..


Claim Slippery Slope

Illogically or falsely claiming that there will be disastrous consequences if their ideology is not supported

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