Money, not evidence based science, makes the world go round. The CM industry partnering with media outlets – the logical next step?

(as at 25/10/2016 some of the funding information, most notably the $5 million received from Blackmores, has been removed from the WSU website for unknown reasons – here and here you can find screenshots as evidence that they did indeed received these donations).

A $2.9 million donation here, a $2 million there and for good measure an extra $5 million here. And just to make sure that Western Sydney University (WSU) understand who pulls the shots, add a couple of $300 000 cheques into the mix. This is the kind of funding that the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM) received in the last couple of years from the complementary medicine (CM) industry. What does the NICM have to do in return? As an “independent” research institute they have to protect the CM industry with their lives and they have to provide “scientific evidence” for these companies’ products, which in turn will be used as a marketing tool. Our magical products “have been scientifically validated” or “scientifically tested” or “clinically proven” etc. What does the WSU get in return for hosting the NICM? They add the ~ $10 million under the umbrella term “industry income” and they list all the “scientific” publications under the umbrella term “scientific outputs” and so they climb the international world rankings – their only objective. Capitalism at its best, and truly a win-win situation for all.

But wait. What about the poor suckers who buy these products? There used to be a thing called consumer protection and there used to be a time when universities protected their independence because they are state funded enterprises serving the public. Clearly that time is from a bygone era and the notion that water has magical healing properties or that rhino horn is a lifesaving medicine is making a comeback, especially at WSU. And this in 2016. The problem with protecting (masterfully done by the NICM) the evil practices of homeopaths (if you can look a sick child in the eyes and sell them water as medicine, then I am content to call you evil) or to promote rhino horn as lifesaving medicine, is quite severe. The former gives credibility to the homeopathic industry and hence they will not only prescribe water for the treatment of minor or self-limiting conditions such as headaches, but because their products “work”, they will also prescribe it for life threatening conditions such as malaria and HIV. The impact on society? People die! The latter gives credibility to the pseudoscientific principles of traditional Chinese medicine. The impact? A hell of a lot of rhinos die!

It might be a win-win situation for the CM industry and WSU, but it is clearly causing a lot of misery, death and destruction for the public and wildlife alike. But can it get any worse? Unfortunately, it can. Most rogue nations (Nazis, North Korea etc.) are in full control of the media whereas democratic governments have some influence, but far less so. In democratic nations the problem is usually that big business runs the mass media and they pull the shots and decide what is fact and what is fiction. The influence of big business  in the media can be so extreme that they can determine where and with whom the next war will be. By controlling the media, just imagine what they can do to protect and promote their business interests.

It therefore stands to reason that the CM industry in Australia, who is reportedly worth $3.5 billion/annum, and who is already in control of a number of cash strapped universities, will now take the next step and buy their way into controlling or influencing the media. Because most of their products are pretty much useless, and some are quite dangerous, focusing on marketing seems to be their main goal and the logical, if not only, way to go – true to the capitalistic dream of ever increasing profits while ignoring the real cost to society. The target of their mass (misleading) marketing is not only Australia – with its small population- but specifically the massive Asian markets who is currently their fastest growth region. To achieve their goal there seems to be no better way than to “partner” with the international arm of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). A recent article reports the following:

“ABC International’s media service Australia Plus (A+) this week announced partnerships with Monash University, the Victorian State Government and Swisse Wellness. These ‘Foundation Partners’ receive branding and advertising opportunities across all Australia Plus platforms.”

“The brands will have exclusive advertising rights to reach 190 million people across Asia who can access online and television channels broadcast by Australia Plus.”

This article was published yesterday and unfortunately do not give specifics on the amount of money involved in this deal – but now that they have bought their way into the ABC we will probably never get to know this.

It is however interesting to note that the $15 million CM industry funding that La Trobe university accepted, received a huge amount of media attention early in 2014. The $1.3 million funding accepted by Sydney University, early in 2015, also made headlines and it was discussed for a number of days in the media. In July 2015, the CM industry donated $2 million to WSU and it barely made it into the newspapers, and then only in early 2016, six months later – let alone that it was being discussed in the media. The recent $5 million donation hasn’t even made it into any newspaper. Clearly there is a trend here, although a number of factors might play a role.

-The first three donations were publicised on the news sites of the respective universities, whereas the last donation wasn’t (hush hush, let’s keep it quiet – I wonder why?).

-WSU is the minion university amongst these three universities and it is big news when a prestigious university falls for the CM industry, but not so much when a minion university is involved (maybe the reason why the CM industry decided to target WSU?).

-That the CM industry floods universities with millions of dollars is just not newsworthy anymore.

-Or maybe, just maybe, media outlets find themselves in a similar position than most universities – desperate for cash. And this is mainly due to the ever decreasing circulation numbers, stiff competition and subsequent loss of income from advertisements. Partnering with other industries, never mind who, therefore seems to be the way to go – even if you have to (further) sacrifice your independence. Can this explain the above mentioned trend? So when will we see the tobacco industry making a comeback? They sell their products legally, so why not?

Can we expect a “win-win” situation being created between media outlets and the CM industry, similar to the CM industry’s partnership with WSU? I think this is the future, so Blackmores, if any of you are reading this, this should  be your next strategic move – partner with a media outlet. The big loser, as usual, will be the public – but in this case not only the Australian public, but also the Asian public.

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