Over at Life Sciences Daily, Ogan Gurel has a post on the recent FDA Avandia vote that's worth reading. That's not so much for the Avandia news, which we all know about now - the main focus of the piece is on the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest (CMPI) and their blog, Drugwonks.
I don't have a permalink up to Drugwonks, partly for the reasons that Gurel goes into. I should disclose, though, that I've met the people behind CMPI (Robert Goldberg and Peter Pitts), and have accepted their hospitality while attending a CMPI-sponsored conference last spring. I got along with both of them just fine. But that said, I don't think that their web site is as effective as it could be.
I think that whoever writes the posts there is trying for a lively, irreverent tone, but (as Gurel goes into a great amount of detail to show), a lot of the entries slide over into ad hominem invective. Now, I'm no stranger to that form of argument myself - any of my pieces on Kevin Trudeau would furnish a number of examples, and I enjoyed writing every one of them. (In fact, I reserve to right to back up and insult him again, when the opportunity arises).
But the weapon should fit the offense. There's almost nothing too nasty to say about Kevin Trudeau, but Steve Nissen (the cardiologist who's raised the alarm on Avandia and several other drugs) is no Kevin Trudeau. He's a very competent guy, with a set of strongly held opinions which he backs up with publications in high-ranking journals. Agree with him or not (and I've come down both ways in the past myself), he's a serious person making serious arguments. And they deserve serious responses, not the sort of raspberries and hoots coming from some of the Drugwonks posts.
And the thing is, I assume that the whole purpose of a think tank (like CMPI) is to influence debate. The tone of their blog, though, suffers from the same defects that make most political blogs (left or right) nearly unreadable to me. Conclusions are assumed without argument, choirs are preached to, poses struck - if you didn't agree with the point of view before you started, there's nothing there to convince you. Actually, if you didn't agree with the point of view before, you probably didn't even look at the site at all.
I've never felt the need to hang around sites where people do little more than cheer each other on about the rightness of their cause. I'd rather someone tell me something I didn't know, or show me a new way to think about an issue and why it might be correct. Perhaps that's the scientist in me. Are there other people who are more convinced by this sort of thing, from either end of the debate?