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EXPERT TESTIMONY, UNETHICAL ADVISERS AND BIG PHARMA

September 19, 2017

EXPERT TESTIMONY, UNETHICAL ADVISERS AND BIG PHARMA

As my followers know, I am no friend of Big Pharma and their political efforts to keep the good and greedy times rolling with their armies of lobbyists and lawyers. Elizabeth Warren in her book This Fight is our Fight has given me additional fuel to add to my distaste of their tactics, all of which are designed to add to their bottom lines but which are threats not only to our democracy but, literally, to our survival, or at least to the survival of 83,000 Americans.

Senator Warren in her book reviews the use of expert testimony before Congress and the courts bought and paid for by corporations to fashion our laws, rules and regulations and such descriptions are unsettling to say the least. She, for instance, zeroes in on testimony given by Dr. Robert Litan before Congress on the issue of a rule regulating kickbacks given to the investment advising industry (aka bribes to such advisers) which included “prizes” in return for steering retirees to higher-priced annuities and other investments, “prizes” which included points toward vacations at fancy resorts, luxury cars, “Super Bowl-style rings” and, of course, cash. Such advice to retirees was based not on what investments were best for the retirees but rather on what was best for the bottom lines of such unethical investment advisers, which I define as bribes pure and simple.

The Department of Labor figured that these “prizes” were costing American consumers about $17 billion a year and had tried for years to pass rules to shut down this steering practice, but the industry’s lobbyists were always successful in beating back such attempts. In 2015, the Department developed a set of stringent rules to clean up these investment malpractices and, unsurprisingly, Republicans sided with the investment industry and called for hearings on the proposed rule with a view toward killing the rule.

One of the expert witnesses called to testify before Congress was Dr. Robert Litan, a non-resident member of the Brookings Institution, an otherwise respectable think tank, who offered expert testimony before the Congress as an independent witness. Contrary to the Labor Department’s findings of a cost of $17 billion a year to consumers, he testified that adoption of the rule would actually cost consumers as much as $80 billion per year! This conclusion by an otherwise well-credentialed expert ran not only counter to the Department’s findings but was also counter to the findings of the Council of Economic Advisers and by independent peer-reviewed studies as well.

Senator Warren rightly thought such a conclusion didn’t make sense since such expert witness “was basically saying that if investment advisers couldn’t steer people to bad products, the customers would lose money.” She thought such testimony did not pass the smell test, so she questioned whether Dr. Litan was an independent witness or a hired gun. Upon further investigation, she found that he was paid $85,000 by the Capital Group and that this investment “Group” had “helped” Litan prepare the report by providing “feedback” and “editorial comments” before he testified. In other words, Litan was a paid gun and one described by the Washington Post which pointed out that Litan’s work was “a spectacularly unpersuasive hack-job.” Dr. Litan left Brookings later and the institution appropriately updated its rules on conflicts of interest in short order.

Most “experts” garnish their reputations by publishing in academic journals. In one such journal, the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, there was published an article that compared three diabetes medications. It reported that Avandia, a diabetic drug produced by GlaxcoSmithKline, performed best. GlaxcoSmithKline touted the findings everywhere near and far and sold lots of the product, but it failed to mention that that all eleven of the article’s authors were on the company’s payroll (just as Dr. Litan neglected to mention his stipend of 85 grand from an investment company who had a stake in the outcome of adoption of a rule to prevent fraud and false dealing in investment advice). The Big Pharma result was even worse. This big pharmaceutical company was peddling poison.

Senator Warren notes that every one of the eleven well-paid authors of the report missed the evidence of something that became tragically apparent years later, to wit: that Avandia significantly increased the risk of heart attacks. Before the drug could be pulled off the market it was estimated to have been associated with 83,000 heart attacks and deaths.

So how is our “market economy” faring with its “experts” testifying under oath and falsely in order to influence and/or make policy for all of us? Are our politicians endorsing fraud and false dealing in investment matters (and other matters as well) in return for “campaign contributions?” How about better research of the secondary effects of FDA-approved medicines in the absence of which thousands of people are maimed or die? Do we really favor policies or lack thereof which fleece retirees and literally kill people so that the corporate world can enjoy ever more profits? What happened to our value system? Do we care? Is this the best we can do? Who are we?      GERALD        E

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