Saturday, February 12, 2005

FDA and reform

When I say that I'm not a traditional leftist, this is one prime example of what I mean by that. I'm talking in particular about the reform of the FDA. Though I don't like all of what the Libertarian Party of the USA(LPUSA) has to say about deregulation, in this one thing, I tend to agree in theory with their view.

The traditional view of the FDA is that it's there to protect us from the big, bad corporations who want to do us harm. This may or may not have ever been true, I'm not going to be precocious enough to presume such a thing. However, there are some current happenings, of which most people are aware, that indicate that if it was the case at one point, it's not the case now.

The latest occurrences of faulty "consumer protection" are the instances of release to the public of pain-killers known as COX-2 inhibitors. The three brands that have been identified with problems are Vioxx, Celebrex and Bextra. Vioxx has been withdrawn from the market. The makers of Celebrex have stated they aren't going to withdraw it, but rather stop advertising for the drug. The insurance company Kaiser-Permanente is not allowing doctors to prescribe Bextra until further safety tests are done.

All information indicates that this class of drugs increase the risk of stroke and heart attacks. Congress is now looking into this matter, to see what exactly went wrong. However, I fear that all they're going to do is essentially add another layer of bureaucracy to this already obfuscatory system, which will not only alleviate problems but just make it even more difficult to correct future failures. It has been shown recently that the FDA has ignored findings of its own scientists. The FDA has their explanations("not published in a peer review journal" is one), and that's all fine and dandy, but the fact remains that there are insufficient safeguards in place.

Further recent issues that come to mind are those of Naproxen Sodium(the ingredient in the OTC medication, Aleve), and Fen-Phen(the combination of Fenfluramine and Phentermine which acted as a weight loss medication). With Naproxen Sodium, we see a similar issue with regards to an increased risk of heart attacks, and Fen-Phen caused problems with heart valves in many patients.

When one looks at the totality of these situations, we see that something is definitely broken with the system. I would never say that we should just let "the market" regulate itself. That's absurd. But as it stands now, the FDA is essentially in the employ of "Big-Pharma". And these issues have no sign of abating for now. George H.W. Bush has been on the board of directors of Eli Lilly, as has Kenneth Lay. There is an incestuous relationship all around. One can, of course, say that this indicates the corruption in politics and money, and not the bureaucratic machinery. But the fact of the matter is that this machinery is intimately tied into the politics and money. Political appointees are placed in high positions in these institutions of social protection, and their job is dependent on feeding at the trough of subsidy money and the whim of the person who appointed them in the first place. The subsidy money, in this case, often comes from the companies they are supposed to regulate in the first place.

So, the question becomes one of finding appropriate solutions. And what is a good solution? To be honest, I'm not sure, but I have an inkling it's something that the left won't like. And that is a sort of breaking down of the machine itself. Not to destroy it, per se, but rather to allow a multiplicity of "consumer rights" groups that can label and review medications. This leads to a more democratic process of information distribution, and opens the door for opposing viewpoints. Currently, if you disagree with the views of the FDA, you are considered a crank, and in some instances, this may indeed be the case. However, there are many times when whistleblowers are blocked out of the process of discovery because of this very perception. I am not saying it is a "conspiracy" as it were, except the ordinary conspiracy of money to further entrench itself into the hands of those who already have enough.

With todays information age, we have the means to distribute various interpretations of data. With the current system, there is one arbiter of right and wrong: the FDA. This seems like a good idea, because it doesn't get all confused with different "facts", however, there are plenty of problems with power being concentrated in one department like that. We on the left say we like democracy, then why are we not calling for a democratic involvement in the public process of safety. We leave it to the "experts" of one institution. But there are many people, with many different views, and I think it would behoove us to encourage a system that allows for this kind of distribution of information.

There are two issues with this that would need to be resolved(at least that I can see): That of the release of test data. And this would require some sort of legal and enforcement mechanism to ensure that no data is kept private from the people(yes, yes, I know, there's a possibility of corruption in that, also). The other issue is making sure that these consumer advocacy groups aren't actually front groups for the pharmaceutical companies themselves.

One other problem with an implementation of this system is the current "big daddy" approach to protection that we in the U.S. have. We have been raised all our lives with being protected by the government, and it is also in corporate interests to have us be good, passive consumers. Opening up the system to a multiplicity of groups would require us to inform ourselves of various points of view before deciding on a proper course of action. This is not what our government and businesses really want.

The final issue that I can see that would need to be resolved is also another big one, and that is the one of advertising. More money is currently spent on advertising than it is on research. That's a disturbing fact. It drives prices of drugs up more, it wastes capital from efficient utilization for medical purposes into producing trinkets for doctors(pens, memo pads, etc...) and adverts in magazines and TV. Doctors then have a vested interest to push one brand of drug over another(even if they say they don't, and truly don't believe they do, there is a subconscious "reciprocation/altruism" factor that arises, which is a very basic, biological function.)

Caps on advertising need to be pushed back into place as they were before 1998. The industry's excuse is that it's "empowering the consumer" to learn about medication, and encouraging them to see a doctor about a potential problem before it becomes larger than it might otherwise become. It sure sounds nice, doesn't it? Don't believe the hype.

We need to figure out a better system than what we have now, because the one we have is broken. One of the biggest problems, I believe, is that the system itself is a totality, and that as long as there remains the incestuous relationship between politics and business, cracking a dent into this system is nigh impossible.

But these are some possible solutions, I think, that may be better than the current system. Your mileage may vary.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Mere ad hominem

Source URL for this article:

Recently, I've had the opportunity to witness a bit of childish behavior on linkfilter

There happens to be a user known as Psychomike who appears to be a hardcore right-winger, perhaps a freeper Now, many of the users of linkfilter seem to be more on the left side of the fence(of which, I gladly consider myself a member)

Recently, psychomike posted a link that claims that the Saudi's are teaching extreme Wahabbism in America, that it's a muslims duty to wage jihad inside America, using surreptitious means if necessary.

That article cites this report from freedom house that has done research into some of these mosques who are receiving financial backing of the Saudi government or associated people(ie: princes of the royal family)

Now, the first thing I noticed is the immediate bashing of psychomike that people did. Saying things such as "Shut up, Psychomike!", etc... There was no discussion of the merits of the article, just ad hominem attacks on the link, due to the fact that it was posted by psychomike, and seemed to have an anti-islamic slant.

One poster noted that his link was to an article on WorldNetDaily, which as you may or may not know, is a right-wing online newspaper. They used this as an argument to discredit it. However, even though this wasn't a direct ad hominem, the fact is that this is still not a logical argument. To discredit a source due to it's potential bias is flawed methodology and will not advance your own knowledge of that which you are researching. It's my firm belief that it's important to read varied sources of information, with an understanding of the inherent biases of said information, and trying to filter out the bias through proper analysis.

Now, I did click on the link, read the article, and read the report that the article was based off of. I wanted to know who "Freedom House" is, and noticed that they're partly funded funded by the Bradley Foundation, which is a right-wing think tank (part of the so called "vast right-wing conspiracy). It is, however, important to note that Bradley Foundation isn't the only source of funding, and that the more liberal George Soros has a part in this organization as well. So, the question then becomes one of bias in the original article, and what methodologies of research were used.

Unfortunately, this is not debated in this forum, and mere ad hominem attacks are presented as logical thought. If the left is ever to awaken to it's true potential again, there needs to be a re-adherence to the principles of reason.

I want the left to be vocal, indeed. I'm tired of them wussing out all the time. However, I don't want them to completely dumb themselves down, and present "common sense" arguments as the be all and end all of a discussion(as much of the right-wing tends to do).

Though I thought it important to discuss the Saudi role in 9/11, and that it's vital to ask ourselves where we stand in in relation to various governments in the Middle East, and how we support their oppression of their people, we must continue to ask hard question, both about our opponents beliefs and our own. That requires looking at cold hard facts, as much as they are revealed to us, and drawing conclusions based upon that information.