The Guardian is currently running a series of extracts from Ben Goldacre’s new book, Bad Science. The first two are witty, acerbic and address how implausible vaccine scare stories get picked up by a scandal hungry media, and how pharmaceutical companies attempt to persuade us that every discomfort is a medical disorder.
Actually, I’m still waiting for the copy I’ve ordered to arrive so haven’t seen the whole thing yet, but if you’re a fan of the Bad Science column then the extracts suggest that the book will be just as insightful.
Times have changed. The pharmaceutical industry is in trouble: the golden age of medicine has creaked to a halt, the low-hanging fruit of medical research has all been harvested, and the industry is rapidly running out of new drugs. Fifty ‚Äúnovel molecular entities‚Äù a year were registered in the 1990s, but now it‚Äôs down to 20, and many of those are just copies of other companies‚Äô products, changed only enough to justify a new patent. So the story of ‚Äúdisease mongering‚Äù goes like this: because they cannot find new treatments for the diseases we already have, the pill companies have instead had to invent new diseases for the treatments they already have.
Recent favourites include social anxiety disorder (a new use for SSRI antidepressant drugs), female sexual dysfunction (a new use for Viagra in women), the widening diagnostic boundaries of ‚Äúrestless leg syndrome‚Äù, and of course ‚Äúnight eating syndrome‚Äù (another attempt to sell SSRI medication, bordering on self-parody) to name just a few: all problems, in a very real sense, but perhaps not necessarily the stuff of pills, and perhaps not all best viewed in reductionist biomedical terms. In fact, you might consider that reframing intelligence, loss of libido, shyness and tiredness as medical pill problems is a crass, exploitative, and frankly disempowering act.
Night eating syndrome? No wonder those Goths look so pale.