Happy Independence Day.
This year, I’ve had reason to think about another form of independence: namely independence from funding sources.
First of all, lets clarify what the word means in this context. A quick googling of “independence” gives various definitions, here are some:
“The capacity to make ones own judgements”. It has also been described as the opposite to “dependence, subordination, subservience”.
In the past week a journalist published an article implying that because I have done some work for pharmaceutical companies that my opinions or recommendations to patients have somehow lost their independence and become biased.
Part of the reason I have chosen a career as a professor is that in this profession I enjoy academic freedom: the right to express my opinion on my area of expertise without being censored by my employer or any other source of funding. In this job, the main thing affecting what one says is simply the question of whether it can be supported by the best scientific evidence. If I was primarily employed by a pharmaceutical company (or pretty much any for-profit company for that matter) I may have greater limitations on my freedom to express my opinions, particularly where those opinions were either not relevant to that company or could have a negative impact on the company’s bottom line.
So to have my independence questioned is deeply insulting, particularly by individuals who know almost nothing about me and have taken very little time to enquire as to whether my opinions are based on evidence and expertise/experience, rather than the bias they presume. In my previous blog post I have explained some of the various inaccuracies and misrepresentations presented in the recent article. I will continue to express my opinions based on my own judgement and on the best scientific evidence.
I am aware that there are some people out there who jump to the conclusion that if someone has done some work for a pharma company they must suddenly lose all ability to think for themselves or express an honest opinion. This is simply not true, any more than it is true for the 90%+ of my work funded by New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, the Cancer Institute of New Jersey, the Rutgers Community Health Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation or numerous other funding agencies.
Freedom of expression is one of the most highly valued rights in this country and one that I will continue to enjoy. Feel free to post your own thoughts and opinions in response, whether you agree or not (except of course for John Polito…just kidding).