Friday, December 23, 2005

Expert Opinions...

...paid for by K Street.

As a lawyer, I know that expert witnesses called for testimony at trial are usually nothing more than hired guns. Each party calls the expert that will support its side of the case. The tactic is not nearly as sleazy as it sounds because the opposition has the tool of cross-examination to pick holes in the expert's credentials and opinions. The jury, if it is paying attention, can determine which expert opinion is worth relying on in determining a verdict.

Unfortunately, readers of op-ed columns don't have quite the same mechanism to assist them. The most they can rely on is the little italicized section which 'identifies' the writer, and too often that little section is composed by the op-ed writer. An article in today's NY Times points out what can happen in this system.

Susan Finston of the Institute for Policy Innovation, a conservative research group based in Texas, is just the sort of opinion maker coveted by the drug industry.

In an opinion article in The Financial Times on Oct. 25, she called for patent protection in poor countries for drugs and biotechnology products. In an article last month in the European edition of The Wall Street Journal, she called for efforts to block developing nations from violating patents on AIDS medicines and other drugs.

Both articles identified her as a "research associate" at the institute. Neither mentioned that, as recently as August, Ms. Finston was registered as a lobbyist for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the drug industry's trade group. Nor was there mention of her work this fall in creating the American Bioindustry Alliance, a group underwritten largely by drug companies.

The institute says Ms. Finston's ties to industry should not have prevented her from writing about those issues. Nor is there a conflict, it says, in the work of Merrill Matthews Jr., who writes for major newspapers advocating policies promoted by the insurance industry even though he is a registered lobbyist for a separate group backed by it. "Lobbying is not a four-letter word," said the institute's president, Tom Giovanetti.

The issue of whether supposedly independent writers and researchers are having their work underwritten - directly or indirectly - by lobbyists and other special interests is hardly new.

But the payments by Mr. Abramoff and a closer review of the work of the Institute for Policy Innovation, a group founded in 1987 by a former House Republican leader, Dick Armey of Texas, are evidence that the ties may be much closer than research organizations, conservative and liberal, would prefer to admit.
[Emphasis added]

I'm not suggesting that Susan Finston has no right to write a column expressing an opinion on the need for protecting drug patents. I just think it would be helpful if the editors of newspapers and magazines let the readers know that Ms. Finston has direct financial ties to the drug industry and its lobbying mechanism. It would give the reader, sympathetic or not, some clue as to the potential bias of the writer.

That doesn't seem too much to ask, does it?


Anonymous PersonOfInterest said...

Good evening, friends of martial authority.


2:05 PM  

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