Big Pharma vs. Big Placebo

alt med (1)

It’s quite common to hear people say that they don’t trust vaccines because “Big Pharma only cares about profits” or other appeals to fear of greed. Never mind that vaccines are just about 3% of US pharmaceutical sales — and so are relatively unimportant to drug companies — let’s see where this logic takes us.

If making billions of dollars on a type of product is grounds for suspicion, why only focus on vaccines? Americans spend $28 billion a year on organic food and $34 billion a year on “alternative medicine”; by contrast, the vaccine market is less than $13 billion.

My point is not to attack profit — no business would exist without it — but to simply show how absurd the argument is that because drug companies are driven by the profit motive (“greed”), therefore you can’t believe anything they say about their products (e.g., vaccines).

Money and profits don’t become magically better or worse when corporations are selling unproven snake oil instead of tested medicine. You must look at scientific evidence to judge claims about products, not the price tag or the bottom line of the companies who make it.

Sometimes I hear people suggest that it is just the “big” in Big Pharma that it is the problem; money only corrupts when big corporations get lots of profit concentrated in one place. Let’s look at the annual sales of Monsanto (big, evil GMO company) and Whole Foods (patron saint of all that is good and natural):

Hmm. Well. Seems like making money can’t be such a bad thing after all.

Again, the point is about profit and its implication on the motives, trustworthiness, and reliability of an industry. If the $12.8 billion from vaccines (3% of all drug sales!) is enough to corrupt and discredit the entire government, pharmaceutical industry, and scientific establishment, what exactly does $62 billion a year in organics and alt/med sales do to their credibility? The answer is nothing. Evidence, not vague fear-mongering about “greed”, is the only thing that can settle scientific questions.

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Daniel Bier

Daniel Bier

Daniel Bier is the executive editor of The Skeptical Libertarian.

View all posts by Daniel Bier

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