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Harry Potter and the Half-Baked Posts
Harry Potter's long awaited seventh volume made its debut Friday night, and everywhere, children dressed up as Harry, Hermione or Ron, and waited anxiously for the final tome to hit the shelves at midnight. Bookstores and libraries hosted parties where even grownups dressed up as the characters they most closely identify with. One pharma blogger was reportedly spotted in the Boston area taking
part in the gentle revelry.
He is one of my favorite bloggers, with a penetrating wit, great insights, and a justifiably huge following. I read both of his blogs as often as I can and genuinely look forward to meeting him in person here in Chicago when he chairs a healthcare blogging panel in September. And I don't mean any of this maliciously. I just want to learn how to use PhotoShop, since he and so many of the other bloggers I admire use it to such devastating effect. So often, against each other.
In two successive posts on his blog on Friday, John Mack poked light-hearted fun at whistleblowers in general (in light of a former Novartis employee's allegations), and at Peter Rost and Ed Silverman in particular, for their coverage of his case. Lest anyone think that he is too pro-pharma, Mack also nudged the industry for its employment and other practices and the downsizing trend. The posts made fun of everyone and, for benefit of the obtuse, were clearly tagged satire.
But his posts were also a bit mean spirited, not only to the bloggers involved but to those industry employees "too old or too lazy to do their jobs" who blow the whistle on practices they disagree with. David Olagunju doesn't appear to fit either category, whether or not his allegations stand up to scrutiny in court. Mack playfully quoted a clone of the lawyer representing Mr. Olagunju,who was interviewed by Rost and Silverman, in a satirical and characteristically funny Whistleblowing for Dummiesâ€? parody (rivalled recently only by the mysterious Burma Shave riffs).
"Usually, they blow the whistle just before they are fired or are expected to lose their jobs because of mergers or downsizing,"says Sedgwick Knocks, Esq.,whose firm has represented over 100 whistleblowers, many of whom are former pharmaceutical executives who either hated their new bosses, were too old or lazy to do their jobs or just amassed enough evidence in their garages to allow them to retire early."These days, says Sedgwick, mid-level managers are never assured that they will reach retirement. More and more, they are being marginalized in dead end jobs or terminated just before they are vested in their retirement plans it is essential therefore that every manager prepare for the day when he or she may have to blow the whistle."
I can understand why John would want to lampoon the whole whistleblower expose trend, which has picked up great momentum in pharma since the precedent-setting Buckets of Money story broke at AstraZeneca last April. After all, there is always a GOTCHA! lurking in Peter Rosts blog. He doesn't bother to disguise his glee at uncovering even the slightest hint of evildoing at Pfizer and other drug companies. No doubt that's annoying to many people in the industry that helped shape his unusual career path.
But I would doubt that either Peter Rost or Ed Silverman reported on the Novartis legal case merely to gain extra notches on their already impressive Web 2.0. belts. Such stories are important because every whistleblower's allegations, even those that are eventually dismissed, contain at least some grains of truth. That's why they should all be heard.
Was David Olagunju let go for poor performance? Maybe or maybe not, but, whether or not he influenced the FDA's decision to require more time for review, allegations of clinical data doctoring deserve careful attention because they make the buckets of money and pink cupcake hijinx of last Spring look like child's play. People's lives would be directly at stake in this case, not just corporate reputations.
Mr. Olagunju appears to believe very strongly in the path he chose, all the more reason why it shouldn't be mocked. Neither should the situations of whistleblowers or the downsized, who are suddenly forced to get entrepreneurial in entirely different pursuits and industries in their 40s and 50s at the height of their creative powers (and often, ironically, when they are most loyal to their employers). It's just not funny, or fun, whether they earned $600,000 or $60,000 in a past life.
There's No Voldemort
Unlike the Potter series with its clearcut villain, in many pharma whistleblowing scenarios, the villain is not so much the individual's boss, division, company or the drug industry, but the relentless machinery of the blockbuster drug business model, which demands that every possibleÂ dollar be wrested out of every stage of a drug's life cycle, and even after patents have officially expired.
It can push good people to make the wrong choices, whether they work in sales, marketing, research, manufacturing or the CEOs office. A few years ago, one notable pharma whistleblower, whose lawsuit was eventually dismissed, recalled that a team mate once asked him, "Are we in this business to save people's lives or to make money?"
Until there are never any conflicts between these two pharma industry aims,I'd prefer to keep an open mind about every dissenting voice from within pharma (and appreciate those who make the effort and take the time to connect with them individually and tell their stories).
I'm off my soap box now. By the way, Photo Shop certainly takes a bit of effort/time to use. (Too much if you ask me). My hats off to the graphic artists who use it all the time and to all you bloggers out there for mastering it and using it with such great facility. I clearly have a lot to learn.
For what it's worth, John, if you do happen to see this, I'm still a Mack fan (90% of the time).