Archive for December, 2010|Monthly archive page

How Drug Companies Bribe Doctors to Suck You Into Their Web

In Uncategorized on December 22, 2010 at 6:27 pm


This article is taken from the author of Health Informatrix blog

Drug companies spend $18.5 billion per year promoting their drugs to physicians.

With that kind of marketing budget, it’s easy to understand how drugs have become the first line of defense in many physicians’ offices, rather than the last resorts they should really be. But when you uncover the tactics used by drug representatives — some of them revealed in the video above — it goes way beyond “marketing.”
Psychological warfare would be a better way to describe it.

Drug Reps Use Unbelievable Tactics to Manipulate Doctors

Drug reps are taught tactics for manipulating doctors for industry benefit; it’s a standard part of their training because doctors are essentially their “dealers.”
Shahram Ahari, who was featured in the above video, is a former drug rep who has spoken out before. He spent two years selling Prozac and Zypraxa for Eli Lily and told a Senate Aging Committee that his job involved "rewarding physicians with gifts and attention for their allegiance to your product and company despite what may be ethically appropriate."
Ahari describes sales tactics that were openly taught to new reps during a training class, including:

  • How to exceed spending limits for important clients
  • How to be generous with free samples to leverage sales
  • How to use friendships and personal gifts to foster a "quid pro quo" relationship
  • How to exploit sexual tension

If you think that last one is a stretch, think again. Drug companies commonly hire former cheerleaders, ex-models, former athletes and military members to ensure their reps have a certain appealing look and outgoing personality.
Pharmaceutical sales reps are trained in tactics that are on par with some of the most potent brainwashing techniques used throughout the world, according to one PLoS report co-authored by Ahari.
The report states:

“Pharmaceutical companies spend billions of dollars annually to ensure that physicians most susceptible to marketing prescribe the most expensive, most promoted drugs to the most people possible.
The foundation of this influence is a sales force of 100,000 drug reps that provides rationed doses of samples, gifts, services, and flattery to a subset of physicians …
Physicians are susceptible to corporate influence because they are overworked, overwhelmed with information and paperwork, and feel underappreciated. Cheerful and charming, bearing food and gifts, drug reps provide respite and sympathy; they appreciate how hard doctor’s lives are, and seem only to want to ease their burdens.
But … every word, every courtesy, every gift, and every piece of information provided is carefully crafted, not to assist doctors or patients, but to increase market share for targeted drugs.”

The Brainwashing Begins in Medical School

Unsuspecting medical students and residents are among the drug companies’ best targets. Drug reps can take advantage of their naivety and inexperience to successfully “train” them to be top prescribers even before they finish medical school.
Drug companies are allowed to develop their own education curriculum for medical students and residents, lavishing them with gifts, indirectly paying them to attend meetings and events where they promote the company’s products.
Even Harvard Medical School, one of the most prestigious in the United States, recently earned an F for its policies regarding accepting money and gifts from drug companies.
The grade came from the American Medical Student Association (AMSA), which ranked 150 medical schools according to their ties to industry. The more money and other incentives a school was receiving from the pharmaceutical industry, the worse grade they got.
Harvard earned the lowest grade possible. According to AMSA:

  • Out of Harvard’s 8,900 professors and lecturers, 1,600 admit that they or a family member have ties to drug companies that could bias their teaching or research.
  • The pharmaceutical industry contributed more than $11.5 million to Harvard in 2008 for “research and continuing education classes.”

Impressionable medical students are being indoctrinated into the drug-based model of disease care as we speak. It goes on all the time, and I can vouch for this personally as I, too, was brainwashed in medical school to favor the drug paradigm.
In the mid ’80s, I was actually a paid speaker for the drug companies. They would fly me to various physician education events around the country and pay me a very generous stipend to lecture to these groups. That was more than two decades ago, before I was able to remove myself from their very powerful brainwashing techniques — and I was finally able to understand the truth of what they were doing.

Your Physician is Likely Influenced by These Persuasive Tactics

If you think your physician will be able to see past these persuasive tactics, think again — and it’s not about intelligence or even ethics. Your physician may be very intelligent, and he or she may have every intention of NOT listening to a drug rep’s sales pitch.
But maybe she just wants to take advantage of the free samples they’re handing out to offer them to her patients. And there the rep gets a foot in the door, and even if he doesn’t say another word is able to keep a certain drug’s name upfront in this physician’s mind. And maybe he’ll drop off a few pens and pads of paper, also with the drug’s name, in case it starts to wear off.
Even if your doctor isn’t prescribing many targeted drugs, there are ways that drug reps will get that to change.
Drug companies have been hiring outside firms to purchase data on doctors from pharmacies since the mid-1990s. The reports let drug sales representatives see a doctor’s prescribing habits, among other things, which lets them know:

  1. If their sales pitches are working
  2. How to change their sales pitch if they’re not

For example, if the report shows a doctor generally prescribes a drug’s competitor, they can prepare a sales pitch specifically to discredit the competing drug. Meanwhile, those doctors who do regularly prescribe their drugs would likely be singled out to receive some “incentives” to keep doing so.
As Ahari said:
“It’s my job to figure out what a physician’s price is. For some it’s dinner at the finest restaurants, for others it’s enough convincing data to let them prescribe confidently and for others it’s my attention and friendship … but at the most basic level, everything is for sale and everything is an exchange.”

How to Stay Safe in a Medical System Run by Drug Pushers

If you’re prescribed a drug, how do you know that it’s really necessary and safe, as opposed to one made by a company that’s paying off, or essentially brainwashing, your doctor?
You don’t, and that’s why you’ve got to learn to get your own information. Do not take a drug just because your doctor prescribes it. First, learn what the drug is supposed to do, how it may help you, how it could harm you and, most importantly, what alternatives there are.
Drug companies are willing to do just about anything to make you, and your physician, think their drugs are great — quietly devising a hit list of doctors to silence, collecting secret reports on doctors, buying off Congress, advertising to you in your living room, even corrupting studies in medical journals so they show only favorable results.
It isn’t always easy to fight back against this system, but know that the drug companies are not going to protect you.
And it is unlikely that your physician can protect you either — even a well-meaning one — when he or she is operating within a system that has become RIGGED for Big Pharma profit.
You are the only one that can protect yourself and your family.  You need to Take Control of Your Health. Search my Web site and the Web for answers. Don’t trust what your doctor tells you at face value.
Make sure you double and triple check every recommendation, as your health is too precious a commodity to lose to some carefully manipulated recommendation by the drug company.
So remember to stay alert and informed before taking any new drug, and maintain a naturally healthy lifestyle that will optimize your body’s innate healing abilities and minimize your need for the drug companies’ latest concoctions.
And for those of you in medical school right now, or planning to enter soon, please become familiar with AMSA’s PharmFree campaign. Aside from being a great source of information, their site offers guides and kits to help you make positive changes, including major policy reforms, at your own school.


Cracking the Facebook Code

In Uncategorized on December 15, 2010 at 12:22 am

by Thomas E. Weber

How does the social media giant decide who and what to put in your feed? Tom Weber conducts a one-month experiment to break the algorithm, discovering 10 of Facebook’s biggest secrets.

The more digital our daily lives become, the more perplexing the questions seem. Will the growth of social media destroy our notions of privacy? Is democracy helped or harmed by the cacophony of opinions online? And perhaps most confounding: Why does that guy I barely know from the 10th grade keep showing up in my Facebook feed?

If you’ve ever spent time on Facebook, you’ve probably pondered that last one. The social-networking giant promises to keep us connected with our friends in exchange for pumping a steady diet of advertising at us—but the algorithms Facebook uses to decide what news to pass along can seem capricious or altogether impenetrable.

The Daily Beast’s one-month experiment into Facebook’s news feed yielded the following discoveries:

  • A bias against newcomers
  • “Most Recent” doesn’t tell the whole story.
  • Links are favored over status updates, and photos and videos trump links.
  • “Stalking” your friends won’t get you noticed.
  • Raise your visibility by getting people to comment.
  • It’s hard to get the attention of “popular kids.”

Facebook, much like Google with its search algorithms, consistently refuses to go into details about how it picks and pans content (save a few glancing details this year about the enigmatic engine that powers it, EdgeRank). So, with the mystery of that 10th-grade friend in mind, The Daily Beast set out to crack the code of Facebook’s personalized news feed. Why do some friends seem to pop up constantly, while others are seldom seen? How much do the clicks of other friends in your network affect what you’re shown? Does Facebook reward some activities with undue exposure? And can you "stalk" your way into a friend’s news feed by obsessively viewing their page and photos?

To get the answers, we devised an experiment, creating our own virtual test lab within the confines of Facebook and tracking thousands of news-feed items over a period of several weeks. The focal point of our experiment: Phil Simonetti, a 60-year-old Facebook newcomer who allowed us to dictate and monitor his every move.

Like a half-billion people before him, Simonetti joined Facebook and began typing in his status updates. But in this case, Simonetti’s only friends were a hand-picked roster of more than two dozen volunteers who agreed to sift through their news feeds for the duration of our experiment, dutifully recording any Phil sightings.

As our volunteers checked in with their reports, some remarkable findings began to emerge:

Facebook Privacy: What Really Happens to Users’ Data

1. Facebook’s Bias Against Newcomers. If there’s one thing our experiment made all too clear, it’s that following 500 million people into a party means that a lot of the beer and pretzels are already long gone. Poor Phil spent his first week shouting his updates, posted several times a day, yet most of his ready-made "friends" never noticed a peep on their news feeds. His invisibility was especially acute among those with lengthy, well-established lists of friends. Phil’s perpetual conversation with the ether only stopped when we instructed our volunteers to interact with him. A dynamic which leads to…

2. Facebook’s Catch-22: To get exposure on Facebook, you need friends to interact with your updates in certain ways (more on that below). But you aren’t likely to have friends interacting with your updates if you don’t have exposure in the first place. (Memo to Facebook newcomers: Try to get a few friends to click like crazy on your items.)

3. The Velvet Rope: "Top News": The real fun began when we eventually instructed different subgroups of our volunteer-friend force to interact with Phil in a controlled manner.

Suddenly, Phil began popping up on feeds. But which ones? The current newsfeed system offers users two options: "Top News," a highly selective feed of updates from friends, and "Most Recent," a "fire hose" that shows updates in reverse chronological order.

A bunch of interactions, however, still do not guarantee that you’ll get on anyone’s Top News, which is how a vast majority of Facebook users get their information. Some of our volunteers reported frequent sightings of Phil’s updates in their Top News feeds, while others saw him rarely—and in some cases, never. Top News will show you hours-old updates from some friends while ignoring newer postings from others.

Facebook has a reason to do this: If users saw all of the posts for all of their friends, they might be overwhelmed (or bored) and tune out—a disaster for Facebook, which needs eyeballs to earn revenue. But in doing so, Facebook’s ranking system makes judgments about items it thinks you’ll be interested in.

What became clear after two weeks was that it’s not the amount of activity you have, but the type (more on that below).

4. "Most Recent" News Is Censored, Too. As veteran Facebook users know, it’s a simple matter to switch from the filtered-and-prioritized Top News feed to the "fire hose" of Most Recent. In Most Recent, items are displayed in reverse chronological order. So many users naturally assume that Most Recent contains every update from all of their friends.

Gallery: Celebs Not on Facebook

Article - Not On Facebook GAL LAUNCH

Not so, as our experiment showed.

Even with test-subject Simonetti posting updates, links, photos, and videos several times a day, a few of our volunteers found that the items didn’t appear in their Most Recent feeds. (At least, not until we took additional steps to up Phil’s visibility.) If you’ve never tinkered with the "Edit Options" button on your Most Recent feed, this underscores why you should check it out—there’s a little-used setting that caps the number of friends shown in the feed.

5. "Stalking" Your Friends Won’t Get You Noticed. Maybe you’ve fretted about it while poring over photos of an old flame or estranged friend on Facebook—or maybe you’ve diligently worked to get on someone’s radar by clicking all over their page. Do Facebook’s mysterious algorithms factor your stealthy interest in another person into that person’s news feed?

To find out, our test subject spent several days obsessively checking out the posts and photos of some volunteers who had yet to spy him in their feeds. The result was clear: The stalking accomplished precisely nothing.

6. Having Friends Who Stalk You WILL Help Your Popularity. Stalking does work in the other direction, we found. After Phil spent days posting updates in vain, with most of our volunteers seeing none of them, we tasked a handful of friends to start showing more interest in Phil. Even though he wasn’t showing up in their feeds, they sought out his Facebook page repeatedly, clicking on links he had posted and viewing his photos. This was the point at which Phil finally began to break through. It took a few days of constant clicking, but not only did the friends doing the stalking begin to see Phil in their Top News feeds—others who weren’t stalking began noticing him as well.

7. Links Trump Status Updates. We’re sure you consider all of your musings fascinating—but Facebook doesn’t. At various points in our test, Phil switched between writing plain status updates and posting links to content elsewhere on the Web. Even before some of our friends began stalking Phil, for those who were seeing updates from him, links appeared more frequently than status updates—presumably because links are more effective at driving "user engagement," which translates into people spending more time on Facebook.

8. Photos and Videos Trump Links. Just as links proved more potent than status updates in making it past Facebook’s filter, so did photos and videos Phil posted. Here, too, it is likely a matter of engagement. Think about times you’ve spotted a thumbnail-size photo from a friend in your feed and clicked to see it full-size. Facebook likes clicks, and photos deliver them.

9. The Power of Comments. If items you post attract comments from a few friends, it clearly raises your visibility overall. When our selected volunteers began stalking Phil, he finally appeared to many users for whom he had been a no-show. But when we stopped the stalking and moved on to the next phase of our trial, directing a different group of users to not only look in on Phil but also repeatedly add comments to his items, he surfaced on the feeds of still more friends.

10. Why Facebook Really is Like High School: After weeks of testing and trying everything from having Phil post videos to getting some of his friends to flood him with comments, by the end of our experiment, a few of our volunteers had still literally never seen Phil appear in their feeds, either Top News or Most Recent. These were the "popular kids"—users of Facebook with 600 or more friends. (Conversely, those with only 100 to 200 friends were among the first to spot Phil.) So the key, as you build your coterie of friends, is making sure to include some without huge networks. They’ll see more of your feeds, interact in Facebook-approved ways, and up your visibility with all.

Facebook didn’t respond to our requests for comment about our findings. To be sure, this experiment wasn’t foolproof. Facebook can—and probably does—draw on variables beyond those in our test. And our volunteer force of friends was only human, and may have missed some of Phil’s posts.

Still, we were able to observe firsthand how Facebook can elevate or bury the news you want to share with your friends. For average users, cracking the Facebook code is something of a fun puzzle. But for marketers trying to tap Facebook—or individuals who see the service as a way to promote themselves—understanding how content propagates through the system is anything but a game.

But it also means that many users may not be aware of how much power they’ve put in the hands of this electronic mediator. (The very concept of the news feed was controversial as soon as it was unveiled, as chronicled in David Kirkpatrick’s The Facebook Effect.)

Can you "stalk" your way into a friend’s news feed by obsessively viewing their page and photos?

You might think you’ve shared those adorable new baby photos or the news of your big promotion with all of your friends. Yet not only does Facebook decide who will and won’t see the news, it also keeps the details of its interventions relatively discreet.

All the while, Facebook, like Google, continues to redefine "what’s important to you" as "what’s important to other people." In that framework, the serendipitous belongs to those who connect directly with their friends in the real world—or at least take the time to skip their news feed and go visit their friends’ pages directly once in a while.

Thomas E. Weber covers technology for The Daily Beast. He is a former bureau chief and columnist at The Wall Street Journal and was editor of the award-winning Follow him on Twitter.

Why We Love Who We Love

In Uncategorized on December 14, 2010 at 12:37 pm

The real reasons why we choose that special someone

By Dr. Joyce Brothers

Your Parents’ Influence

Have you ever known a married couple that just didn’t seem as though they should fit together — yet they are both happy in the marriage, and you can’t figure out why?

I know of one couple: He is a burly ex-athlete who, in addition to being a successful salesman, coaches Little League, is active in his Rotary Club and plays golf every Saturday with friends. Meanwhile, his wife is petite, quiet and a complete homebody. She doesn’t even like to go out to dinner.

What mysterious force drives us into the arms of one person, while pushing us away from another who might appear equally desirable to any unbiased observer?

Of the many factors influencing our idea of the perfect mate, one of the most telling, according to John Money, professor emeritus of medical psychology and pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University, is what he calls our "love map" — a group of messages encoded in our brains that describes our likes and dislikes. It shows our preferences in hair and eye color, in voice, smell, body build. It also records the kind of personality that appeals to us, whether it’s the warm and friendly type or the strong, silent type.

In short, we fall for and pursue those people who most clearly fit our love map. And this love map is largely determined in childhood. By age eight, the pattern for our ideal mate has already begun to float around in our brains.

When I lecture, I often ask couples in the audience what drew them to their dates or mates. Answers range from "She’s strong and independent" and "I go for redheads" to "I love his sense of humor" and "That crooked smile, that’s what did it."

I believe what they say. But I also know that if I were to ask those same men and women to describe their mothers, there would be many similarities between their ideal mates and their moms. Yes, our mothers — the first real love of our lives — write a significant portion of our love map.

When we’re little, our mother is the center of our attention, and we are the center of hers. So our mother’s characteristics leave an indelible impression, and we are forever after attracted to people with her facial features, body type, personality, even sense of humor. If our mother was warm and giving, as adults we tend to be attracted to people who are warm and giving. If our mother was strong and even-tempered, we are going to be attracted to a fair-minded strength in our mates.

The mother has an additional influence on her sons: she not only gives them clues to what they will find attractive in a mate, but also affects how they feel about women in general. So if she is warm and nice, her sons are going to think that’s the way women are. They will likely grow up warm and responsive lovers and also be cooperative around the house.

Conversely, a mother who has a depressive personality, and is sometimes friendly but then suddenly turns cold and rejecting, may raise a man who becomes a "dance-away lover." Because he’s been so scared about love from his mother, he is afraid of commitment and may pull away from a girlfriend for this reason.

While the mother determines in large part what qualities attract us in a mate, it’s the father — the first male in our lives — who influences how we relate to the opposite sex. Fathers have an enormous effect on their children’s personalities and chances of marital happiness.

Just as mothers influence their son’s general feelings toward women, fathers influence their daughter’s general feelings about men. If a father lavishes praise on his daughter and demonstrates that she is a worthwhile person, she’ll feel very good about herself in relation to men. But if the father is cold, critical or absent, the daughter will tend to feel she’s not very lovable or attractive.

In addition, most of us grow up with people of similar social circumstances. We hang around with people in the same town; our friends have about the same educational backgrounds and career goals. We tend to be most comfortable with these people, and therefore we tend to link up with others whose families are often much like our own.

Complementary Needs

What about opposites? Are they really attracted to each other? Yes and no. In many ways we want a mirror image of ourselves. Physically attractive people, for example, are usually drawn to a partner who’s equally attractive.

Robert Winch, a longtime sociology professor at Northwestern University, stated in his research that our choice of a marriage partner involves a number of social similarities. But he also maintained that we look for someone with complementary needs. A talker is attracted to someone who likes to listen, or an aggressive personality may seek out a more passive partner.

It’s rather like the old, but perceptive, saying on the subject of marriage that advises future partners to make sure that the holes in one’s head fit the bumps in the other’s. Or, as Winch observed, it’s the balancing out of sociological likenesses and psychological differences that seems to point the way for the most solid lifelong romance.

However, there are instances where people of different social backgrounds end up getting married and being extremely happy. I know of one man, a factory worker from a traditional Irish family in Chicago, who fell in love with an African American Baptist. When they got married, their friends and relatives predicted a quick failure. But 25 years later, the marriage is still strong.

It turns out that the woman was like her mother-in-law — a loving and caring person, the type who rolls up her sleeves and volunteers to work at church or help out people in need. This is the quality that her husband fell for, and it made color and religion and any other social factors irrelevant to him.

Or as George Burns, who was Jewish and married the Irish Catholic Gracie Allen, used to say: his marriage was his favorite gig, even though it was Gracie who got all the laughs. The two of them did share certain social similarities — both grew up in the city, in large but poor families. Yet what really drew them together was evident from the first time they went onstage together. They complemented each other perfectly: he was the straight man, and she delivered the punch lines.

There are certainly such "odd couples" who could scarcely be happier. We all know some drop-dead beautiful person married to an unusually plain wallflower. This is a trade-off some call the equity theory.

When men and women possess a particular asset, such as high intelligence, unusual beauty, a personality that makes others swoon, or a hefty bankroll that has the same effect, some decide to trade their assets for someone else’s strong points. The raging beauty may trade her luster for the power and security that come with big bucks. The not-so-talented fellow from a good family may swap his pedigree for a poor but brilliantly talented mate.

Indeed, almost any combination can survive and thrive. Once, some neighbors of mine stopped by for a friendly social engagement. During the evening Robert, a man in his 50s, suddenly blurted out, "What would you say if your daughter planned to marry someone who has a ponytail and insisted on doing the cooking?"

"Unless your daughter loves cooking," I responded, "I’d say she was darn lucky."

"Exactly," his wife agreed. "It’s really your problem, Robert — that old macho thing rearing its head again. The point is, they’re in love."

I tried to reassure Robert, pointing out that the young man their daughter had picked out seemed to be a relaxed, nonjudgmental sort of person — a trait he shared with her own mother.

Is there such a thing as love at first sight? Why not? When people become love-struck, what happens in that instant is the couple probably discover a unique something they have in common. It could be something as mundane as they both were reading the same book or were born in the same town. At the same time they recognize some trait in the other that complements their own personality.

I happen to be one of those who were struck by the magic wand. On that fateful weekend, while I was a sophomore at Cornell University, I had a terrible cold and hesitated to join my family on vacation in the Catskill Mountains. Finally I decided anything would be better than sitting alone in my dormitory room.

That night as I was preparing to go to dinner, my sister rushed up the stairs and said, "When you walk into that dining room, you’re going to meet the man you’ll marry."

I think I said something like "Buzz off!" But my sister couldn’t have been more right. I knew it from the moment I saw him, and the memory still gives me goose flesh. He was a premed student, also at Cornell, who incidentally also had a bad cold. I fell in love with Milton the instant I met him.

Milt and I were married for 39 years, until his death in 1989. And all that time we experienced a love that Erich Fromm called a "feeling of fusion, of oneness," even while we both continued to change, grow and fulfill our lives.


I agree totally to what the writer talks about. By far this is the most agreeable piece on relationship matching I have read.