About this Author
DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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« But His Name Lives On. . . | Main | Merck versus the New England Journal »

January 22, 2006

Full Disclosure

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Posted by Derek

Some readers will have heard that Michael Fumento, well-known pundit and controversialist, has been fired from his post at Scripps-Howard. Eamon Javers of Business Week broke the story of how Fumento had received some $60,000 from Monsanto without disclosing the relationship. If you look in the comments after that article, you'll see a lot of arguing about whether this was money for a book, for op-eds, whether it went directly to Fumento or not, and so on.

The problem is, none of that matters much. This column by Cathy Seipp is a good explanation of why that is. If you're going to set yourself up as a journalist, you can't take money from the people that you're going to be writing about. Even if there's room to argue, you have to at least disclose what's going on.

Update: here's Fumento's published response to Seipp and the Business Week article.

Fumento has been a vigorous defender of the pharmaceutical and biotech industries over the years, of course. And according to Seipp, there had been suspicions that he had been well-rewarded for his enthusiasm. "Has anyone read a pro-biotech piece. . .that doesn’t practically smell like solicited spin?" she asks.

Well, yeah, I have, but it's one that I wrote, so maybe that doesn't count. I'm in an odd position here, because the journalism is a nights-and-weekends thing with me, while the day job is in the very industry that I write about. That gives me some unique strengths - I like to imagine, anyway - but it also means that anything I write can automatically be discounted as the product of someone who's already been paid for.

That's why I spend little or no time talking about the products of the Wonder Drug Factory where I work, because you can count them on one hand that wouldn't be right. I'm definitely not a spokesman for the company where I work. But for the industry in general? Yeah, informally I guess I am, because I find the work interesting and important enough to speak up for it.

That doesn't mean that I get paid extra for that role, and it doesn't mean that I like everything that goes on in the drug business, either. It is, after all, a business, not some sort of higher calling. Scientific research might qualify as a higher calling, under the right circumstances, but that's only one part of the drug industry. I'm just fortunate that doing the science overlaps as well as it does with making a living.

So there's my disclosure statement. I'm never going to do the under-the-table pay-for-punditry thing, because where I stand should already be clear. Where a byline of mine appears will be where the money's coming from. I'm pro-research and pro-pharmaceutical, because that's what I do for a living. But it isn't love, and it isn't blind.

Comments (13) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Press Coverage


1. wcw on January 23, 2006 1:56 AM writes...

Nah, you're okay -- you've never been anything other than transparent. Besides, you know actual science. Mr. F. was in my estimation an innumerate, something of a handicap for a science writer.

Full disclosure: he and I exchanged words by email once, and as a result I take no small amount of schadenfreude in his going down.

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2. Derek Lowe on January 23, 2006 10:13 AM writes...

I get the impression that Fumento exchanged words with a lot of people over the years, and seemed to have an especially low opinion of bloggers. . .

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3. JSinger on January 23, 2006 10:32 AM writes...

My first encounter with his work was reading The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS about a decade after it came out. In hindsight, he was wrong about some things but absolutely correct on the big picture. Similarly with his book about obesity, there's plenty in there that's probably wrong but now that society has decided that weight gain is all McDonalds' fault, it's useful to remember there was a time when all right-thinking people knew that obesity was purely genetic and had nothing to do with diet or exercise.

He directly confronted a lot of incredibly harmful nonsense from people with the willingness and audience to demonize him, and I'm sorry to see him create a mess for himself like this.

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4. JSinger on January 23, 2006 11:16 AM writes...

Also, "I'm pro-research and pro-pharmaceutical, because that's what I do for a living." may come across as more mercenary than you intended. Doesn't your choice of profession and employer derive from being "pro-research and pro-pharmaceutical" in the first place?

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5. Derek Lowe on January 23, 2006 11:38 AM writes...

You're right; that 's what I was trying to get across. I wouldn't have gone into the field if that wasn't something I was interested in and supported. I suppose that someone who formuates cat litter for a living is pro-cat-litter, but that wasn't the situation that I was trying to evoke.

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6. Milo on January 23, 2006 12:37 PM writes...


Do you get any criticism or negative vibes from your peers at the Wonder Drug Factory because you openly blog about the industry? I have to admire your professionalism (and transparency, as pointed out by wcw) here, I only recently figured out who the Wonder Drug Factory was.

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7. Derek Lowe on January 23, 2006 12:54 PM writes...

I know that a lot of people where I work read the site, but I haven't heard anything negative so far. Mostly I get suggestions for blog posts and other such feedback, along with remarks on particularly good (or particularly crazed) comments.

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8. Monte Davis on January 23, 2006 5:07 PM writes...

"...remarks on particularly good (or particularly crazed) comments"

There's a difference?

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9. Biophysicist on January 23, 2006 5:17 PM writes...

@ JSinger
it's useful to remember there was a time when all right-thinking people knew that obesity was purely genetic and had nothing to do with diet or exercise.

I admit that I have not read the book in question - so I do not know where this is coming from. And while I do not subscribe to the McDonald-causes-obesity theory, are you trying to say that given the right genes, I can keep eating whatever I like, not exercise at all, and I won't gain any weight or have any health problems ?

While it is known that genetic factors do contribute to obesity, I don't see how you could go wrong with a healthy diet and regular exercise. (and I am not talking about any fad diets or 'unhealthy if not organic' kind of extreme diets)

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10. JSinger on January 23, 2006 10:46 PM writes...


Sorry, I guess I should have used scare quotes around "knew". Obviously I (and Fumento) agree with you and nowadays everyone else does, too. But in the 80's and most of the 90's, "experts" insisted that body weight was completely predetermined, and that anyone saying otherwise was encouraging "unrealistic body images" and was directly responsible for anorexia.

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11. Michael Fumento on January 25, 2006 4:57 PM writes...

Now that you've referred your readers to Cathy Seipp's authoratative NRO piece, with such convincing lines as "Fumento has long been suspected," maybe you'll feel obligated to post my NRO rebuttal which not only sticks to facts but points out that Seipp's proud effort to aid the witch hunters ended up slapping her in the face.

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12. Derek Lowe on January 25, 2006 8:50 PM writes...

You deserve a chance for a rebuttal - I'll add a note to the main post.

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13. daen on January 30, 2006 4:30 AM writes...

my NRO rebuttal which not only sticks to facts

Well, the rebuttal's fair enough, but using phrases as rich in hyperbole and rhetoric as "He hung his grease-lined hat totally on the issue of disclosure", "Just as blacks can't be racists we're told, liberal writers can't be corporate stooges" and "science writers often praise the products and research of industry; but isn't corporate-bashing why God created liberals?" definitely represents your opinions and personal/political bias, not "the facts" ...

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