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The Friday Funny: A New Place For Pharma Ads


What Solicitations To Medbloggers Actually Mean

I entered the wonderful world of blogging in 2006, full of enthusiasm and wide-eyed innocence. I still have the enthusiasm, but the naivety is fading fast.

Over the years I’ve seen so many scams and dishonest “partnership” propositions that I’m beginning to wonder if the Internet is an exceptionally seedy place. The medbloggers I know are genuine, caring people – and that’s probably why they are regularly targeted by unscrupulous people trying to make a buck off blogger credibility.

Take for example an online salesman who contacted me recently. He began the conversation with, “Better Health has such great content. My online network has 5 million unique viewers per month and we’re looking for more high-quality content, so would you like to talk about a content partnership opportunity?”

Silly me, assuming that he meant he’d like to syndicate our content and understood the value of good writing. Here’s how the conversation actually went: Read more »

Book Review: Don’t Be Such A Scientist: Talking Substance In An Age Of Style


I’ll never forget the day when I argued for protecting parents against misleading and false information about the treatment of autism. I was working at a large consumer health organization whose mission was to “empower patients with accurate information” so that they could take control of their health. My opposition was himself a physician who requested that our organization publish an article that advised parents of children with autism to seek out DAN! practitioners and chelation therapy.

I prepared my remarks with the utmost care and delivered them to a committee of our lay executives. I cited examples of children who had died during chelation treatments, explained exactly why there was no evidence that chelation therapy could improve the symptoms of autism and in fact was based on the false premise that “heavy metals” in vaccines were implicated in the etiology of the disease. I concluded that it would be irresponsible for the company to publish such misleading advice/information for parents, and would in fact be counter to our entire mission.

My physician opponent suggested that it was our company’s duty to inform parents of all their options, that we should not be judgmental about treatments, and that I was part of a paternalistic medical establishment that tried to silence creative thinking.

The committee ended up siding with my opponent. I was flabbergasted and asked one of the committee members what on earth they were thinking. She simply shrugged and said that my opponent was more likable than I was.

This experience marked the beginning of my journey towards fighting fire with fire – understanding that being right is not the same as being influential, and that “winning” an argument (where lives are on the line) requires a different skill set than I learned in my scientific training.

Book Review

And so it was with great interest that I picked up Randy Olson’s book, Don’t Be Such A Scientist: Talking Substance In An Age Of Style. I was pleased to see that other scientists had experienced the same revelation – that we need to be more communication-savvy to become more societally-influential.

Olson’s book outline is simple: four “don’ts” and one “do.” Don’t be so cerebral, literal-minded, poor at telling stories, or unlikeable. Do be the voice of science. He begins his book with a captivating story: a marine biologist goes to Hollywood and is shredded by an acting teacher for being incapable of raw emotion. Most scientists will get a good chuckle out of this narrative and will relate to Olson’s culture shock.

As the book winds along, the reader is introduced to a series of the author’s former girlfriends. He reminisces:

She would listen to me talk and talk and talk to the old folks and finally, by the end of the day, she would have had enough. So her favorite thing to do in the evening was, when I was done talking, to look deeply, romantically, lovingly into my eyes and say in a soft and seductive Germanic voice… “You bore me.”… p.82

Another girlfriend developed an affectionate nickname for me, “Chief Longwind,” which she would abbreviate when I’d get going on something and just say, “That’s enough for tonight, Chief.” p.83

Unfortunately, as these ladies noted, Olson’s strong suit is not compelling dialog – a tragic irony for a book written to inspire more effective science communication. Nonetheless, since scientists are rarely deterred by boredom, I think that there are some conceptual gems worth unearthing.

These are my top 5 take-home messages:

1. Communicate in a human way – be humorous, tell stories, don’t feel as if you have to present all the details. The goal is to get people curious enough to ask more questions.

2. Broad audiences prefer style over substance – learn to be bilingual (to speak with academics versus a general audience).

3. Marketing is critical for influence. The creators of Napoleon Dynamite spent a few hundred thousand dollars on production and $10 million on advertising/marketing. The movie grossed $50 million. Scientists who wish to be influential (or get their message across broadly) must bow the knee to the marketing gods.

4. Some people are naturally good communicators, others are not. Find the good ones and make them  spokespeople. “The strongest voice is that of a single individual.” p. 166

5. Likability trumps everything. People make snap judgments about whether or not they like you, and your message’s impact is dependent upon your likability factor. Likability is related to humor, emotion, and passion. p. 148

And so, Don’t Be Such A Scientist offers some great food for thought – and I suppose if it hadn’t been written by a scientist it might also have been a more engaging read! But who am I to say, I’m still trying to bend my mind around the idea that Americans don’t care about facts.

Advertising On Cigarette Packs May Help Smokers Quit

You may have noticed that over the past few years the cigarette companies have been trying to persuade the pubic that they are really nice people trying to make the world a better place. For example, at the start of this decade in the U.S. we saw ads on T.V. showing that Philip Morris tobacco company was bringing bottled water to flood victims or donating to good causes. Why would I be cynical and call this a P.R. stunt? Well for one thing because they spent more money on telling the public about the good deeds than on the good deeds themselves!

More recently companies like Philip Morris have been involved in such odd activities as providing consumers with booklets designed to help them to quit smoking. Of course, if the tobacco companies really did have their customers best interests at heart they would withdraw their products completely. But that isn’t going to happen. The management of these companies have a duty and a responsibility to do their best to help the company make money and provide value to their shareholders. So when it comes to activities apparently designed to help smokers quit, one can be pretty sure that’s not the long term intent. The intent is to provide a PR benefit that will outweigh any effect of helping smokers to quit.

One thing tobacco companies do have control over is the cigarette pack itself. Right now the United States is one of many countries that has inadequate health warnings on the pack. Compare the rather weak and small written health warning on the side of a US cigarette pack with the powerful (and large) pictorial warnings on cigarette packs in numerous other countries. You can view pictorial pack warnings from around the world here.
The new legislation giving FDA the power to regulate tobacco products in the United States provides a new opportunity for the government to regulate not only the product but also the packaging. At the recent UK National Smoking Cessation Conference, Dr David Hammond of University of Waterloo in Canada gave an excellent presentation on the most effective ways to use the cigarette pack to inform smokers about the harmfulness of tobacco and to encourage them to quit. He showed that strong emotional pictures of the harms from tobacco on the pack itself, combined with limiting brand information, adding direct information about help to quit on the pack (e.g. the national quitline number) plus a quit smoking “onsert” added to the pack will all have the effect of encouraging smokers to make a quit attempt.

He made it clear that every country in the world should be much more active in using the cigarette pack as a means of encouraging smokers to quit. The companies themselves clearly won’t do it voluntarily, so governments need to take control of the packs via legislation and require much more effective warnings and quitting information be included on cigarette packs.

You can listen to Dr Hammond’s full presentation and view his slides by clicking on the appropriate icon at the following website.

This post, Advertising On Cigarette Packs May Help Smokers Quit, was originally published on by Jonathan Foulds, Ph.D..

The Friday Funny: Excessive Advertising


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