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« Dark Side of Green, Continued | Main | My Problem with Big Pharma »

Has Newsweek Sold Out to Big Pharma?

The medical watchdog Vera Hassner Sharaz of the Alliance for Human Research Protection, whom I praised back in December, has attacked Newsweek for its cover story, “Men and Depression.” Newsweek, which like many mass-media outlets relies heavily on drug-company ads, states:

“Six million American men will be diagnosed with depression this year. But millions more suffer silently, unaware that their problem has a name or unwilling to seek treatment…The result is a hidden epidemic of despair that is destroying marriages, disrupting careers, filling jail cells, clogging emergency rooms and costing society billions of dollars in lost productivity and medical bills. It is also creating a cohort of children who carry the burden of their fathers' pain for the rest of their lives.”

Sounds pretty bad, eh? Give those guys Prozac! But Sharaz derides the Newsweek piece as “an infomercial masquerading as medical news” and “an example of corruption in journalism. Newsweek has surrendered its professional credentials by shamelessly engaging in disease mongering aimed at increasing profits for the mental health industry.”

Sharaz notes that the cover story coincides with an initiative of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), called “Real Men, Real Depression,” to persuade more men to seek treatment for depression. Sharaz argues--plausibly, imho--that the greed of Big Pharma lurks behind the NIMH initiative and Newsweek's coverage. “The marketing campaign appears to be a last ditch effort to gain new customers—and cash--for antidepression treatments.”

There is no more corrupting influence on science—and journalism—than Big Pharma.



What, exactly, is being called into question here? The marketing tactics of drug companies? The reported incidence of depression? The existence of depression itself? To play devil's advocate here, just because Pfizer makes money from drugs to treat depression doesn't mean that there are not a lot of men suffering from depression who might benefit from treatment of some sort. If that is indeed the claim, that people don't have depression, let's see some data.

I, too, am a fan of Vera's listserve, but I would like to agree with Comstock. Depression is a very real disease and pharmaceuticals have been extremely helpful in treating it. It is true that pharma has pushed us to medicalize more conditions than is perhaps appropriate, and pharma's ads certainly are a pernicious influence, but that does not mean that we should decry all cases where pharma's drugs alleviate serious disorders simple examples of a big pharma conspiracy.

Depression IS underdiagnosed in most segments of the population, and I see nothing untoward in Newsweek's reporting of this unfortunate fact. What I think is rightly at issue is how much of the human emotional spectrum we want to sweep up into the diagnosis of depression. For a great book on these issues, read Peter Kramer's "Against Depression" and "Listening to Prozac."


Here's a question I would like to hear debated ... Has SOCIETY gotten any better as a result of all these individuals' minds and brains having been brought into compliance with some standard of normal via pharmaceutical intervention?


The ongoing HPV vaccination controversy also comes to mind. The campaign to make the vaccine mandatory is irredeemably tainted, some argue, because Merck is a self-interested party. Of course they are, but a mandatory vaccination policy would also spare many women cervical cancer.

Gordon Gekko was partly right: sometimes greed IS good - if it can be harnessed to accomplish the right ends.

But only if enough journalists and scientists maintain their independence can we be properly informed about which ends are the right ones.


A long time ago, in a land where not everyone was artificially happy all the time, there existed several concepts, including (but not limited to): "sadness", "melancholy", and "introspection". (Some people suspect that there also existed corollary concepts such as joy, bliss, and contentment - but don't quote me.)

Can anyone say that their losses have not been just as important as their gains (in their personal history of how they became who they are)? Those who medicate against the emotion, the feeling, the experience of those losses, and thereby know them only abstractly, or in a sharply more limited and narrow way than their fellow man, may, indeed, be able to say this.

The perceived moral or ethical components of such a decision aside, and speaking only to the practical and developmental implications of such a decision (the side-effect of its having been made):

Do we lose anything by choosing to adopt a new mental process (which we sell to ourselves as a "return to normality") whereby we no longer turn inward, and, thereby, to some degree, against ourselves (and our own narrowest self-interests), against at least some particular conception of or within ourselves, or against some form of our own internal-/inertial- will?

I don't know... but I also don't know how one goes about testing a patient for a physiological cause of the various symptoms associated with depression (though I've seen the ads about how one might reverse them, without addressing cause - or effect!)...

John Horgan

My problem with Big Pharma is that its products are often--and especially in the case of antidepressants--much less effective than claimed. This was a major theme of my book The Undiscovered Mind. See also my short 1999 oped for the Times, "Placebo Nation," at That's why I've been so scathing about Peter Kramer's book "Listening to Prozac," which someone recommends above. The entire book is based on a false premise. By the way, Newsweek helped make Prozac a blockbuster with a March 26, 1990 cover story titled "A Breakthrough Drug for Depression."

mike cook

I wouldn't say that there is no more corrupting influence on science than Big Pharma. Big Green Religion fairly well shouts down and bullies anyone who dares to question its tenets.

For instance, were there are were there not ever higher incidences of CO2 in the atmosphere than are found today? Like 700,000 years ago, for instance. Has CO2 really even been the major driver in fighting off the ice ages that have plagued our planet the past several million years?

I suggest the real culprit is methane, released in bursts by deep ocean vulcanism. Hydrogen sulfides released by all volcanos also no doubt play a big role, but one contrary to the suspected warming agents. Anything that increases cloud cover (it is thought) tends to cool the planet, although there are certainly cloudy planets in our solar system which are very hot.

Now let us consider the "drowning polar bears" notion. In the mid-1950's the American submarine Nautilus actually broke through the ice and surfaced at the North Pole. The Soviets promptly started building a class of submarines (Typhoon) which would hide under Arctic ice and break through whenever needed to shoot missiles. It is very difficult to break through more than four meters of ice, but the Soviets had no problems field-testing their plan.

Plus, no one has ever video recorded a drowning polar bear. Oh my, it's time for my Prozac again!

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