Friday, March 23, 2007

'Round the Sphere: J & J Dinner Brouhaha, von Eschenbashing

The BIG gossip item this week in The Pharma Blogosphere is the J&J blogfest at an upscale restaurant in NYC.

Since my post exploring the "ethics" of bloggers who write about the drug industry accepting a free dinner from a major pharmaceutical company (see "Should We Dine at Pharma's Table?"), there have been a few comments from the inner and outer orbs of our sphere.

Peter Rost over at Question Authority (Peter, you're back on the list!) considered it "a terrible snub by J&J and their blog consultant" that he wasn't invited (see "J&J hosts a wild blogger party in New York!" -- thank God for direct links, else you'd have a hard time finding this post among all the self-promotion of Peter's new book!).

Peter can't understand why bloggers he's never heard of and whose blogs are not as big as his (as measured by Alexa traffic ratings) were invited whereas he was not. Peter, don't you get it? Size doesn't matter!

At least not size as measured with a non-pharma stick like Alexa traffic ratings. What's important in The Pharma Blogosphere is how many pharma industry people read your blog. Not only that, but how often they read it and how useful they rate it.

And the First Ever Pharma Blogosphere Reader Survey tells it all: Among pharma respondents who regularly read blogs, Question Authority scored very low in terms of credibility (only 9% of pharma respondents rated your blog somewhat or very credible). Compared to that, here's how pharma respondents rated some other blogs in the Sphere (some of which you claim never to have heard of):

  • Pharmalot: 43%
  • Pharma Marketing Blog: 42%
  • HealthcareVOX: 29%
Fard Johnmar of HealthcareVOX had "A Few Words About The Johnson & Johnson Blogger Dinner" and agrees that there is more to the reach story than numbers:
"Thanks for your post. I'm sorry you've never heard of me, as my blog is read by a number of folks throughout the healthcare industry. As I like to say to my clients, reach is about more than Alexa numbers. I haven't said much about my attendance at the dinner, mainly because I didn't feel like I had to. However, I will say that yes, J&J picked up the tab for my food. I considered it an even exchange, as I got an opportunity to meet some of the folks there and they got to pick my brain about a host of issues relating to social media and healthcare blogs. The fact that I'm not only a blogger, but a communications consultant who works with a number of health companies, including pharma had a little something to do with it as well. In certain cases, I have paid my own way -- primarily when I'm invited to dinner by folks I am covering on my blog. I also regularly disclose apparent or implied conflicts of interest when I'm writing about organizations."
I don't particularly like Fard's defense of silence before he was forced to speak up: "I haven't said much about my attendance at the dinner, mainly because I didn't feel like I had to."

Keeping quiet in the face of criticism can lead to no good as any good corporate communications person will tell you. You've got to be pro-active and that's why I decided to write my post to bring this all out into the open.

The bastion of silence, however, is Peter Pitts, the Drug/PR Wonk. Nary a word about even attending the meeting over at DrugWonks, which is surprising given his tendency to toot his own horn even more than Rost toots his!

So, Fard has accepted the free dinner and is proud of it. Another attendee who accepted is a medical doctor -- Steven F. Palter, MD of the blog DocInTheMachine -- who defended himself this way:
"As far as pay for dinner, nope I did not foot my own bill -- but then again I did not bill them my expenses for travel, my customary hourly consulting fee for industry to pick my brain, nor did I eat the desert- ka-ching. It takes a lot more than a steak and fries with strangers on a precious night off of work to corrupt me and buy my influence. ... Maybe if they flew me to Paris for the dinner..."
Isn't that just typical of a physician? Right out of the pharma industry playbook. BTW, we all know how much it takes to corrupt a physician: no less than $50,000 (see "FDA Advisor Rule Loophole?").

Well, we don't have Les Crawford to kick around anymore, so let's go after his successor, Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach.

if you've been cruising around The Pharma Blogosphere as long as I have, you would have found a few warning signs that von Eschenbach isn't quite up to speed yet in his new job as Commish of the FDA. Mark Senak over at EyeOnFDA, for example, wrote a piece about his inept communications skills.

Here's a von Eschenbach quote cited by Mark: "There is reality and then there's perception. Sometimes in this town those two things get confused. The point is, it doesn't matter. For me, if it is a perception, it is important....I want an agency in which people bring different points of view, divergent perspectives...At the end of the day, you make a decision."

To which Mark asks "Reality and perception aren't the only things confused. What the heck does that mean? Does it mean anything?" (see "Perception - Reality: The FDA and the Art of Communications").

Well, Mark, it does mean something: Andy is equivocating and he's done it again this week as pointed out by Ed Silverman at Pharmalot("Despite Denial, FDA Chief Wasn't Misquoted"), Jack Friday at PharmaGossip ("Locker talk with FDA Commish Andy"), and myself at Pharma Marketing Blog ("von Eschenbach & Gonzales: Two Birds in the Same Bush").

This is a very good example how several blogs can tackle the same story from different angles and give you a 360-degree view you'd never get from a single news story. Power to The Blogosphere!

I will leave you with this image (read "von Eschenbach & Gonzales: Two Birds in the Same Bush" if you want to understand what it means):