Second Call

This is the second ‘Call for Abstracts’ for the inaugural conference on Pharmageddon? The concern that prompts it is "the prospect of a world in which medicines and medicine produce more ill-health than health, and when medical progress does more harm than good".

The Pharmageddon hypothesis needs close examination; that is the rationale for offering upwards of eight awards of €1,000 each for Abstracts posted on this website (>one million visits per year). The rules are simple: in <350 words, write an Abstract (not the paper) for a presentation that you would want to give or hear at the inaugural conference on Pharmageddon? Closing date: 31 December 2007.

Four weeks have passed since the first ‘Call for Abstracts’ and already ten have come in. It is good to see them – but in the interests of keeping a level playing field, we cannot enter into any correspondence or dialogue about submissions proposed or received. Sorry if this seems standoffish but, in the interests of fairness, everyone gets the same unadorned note of thanks:

Thank you very much for responding to our Call for Abstracts for the planned 2008 conference on Pharmageddon? This is a quick note to acknowledge, with many thanks, receipt of your submission; we very much appreciate your interest in this enquiry.

As mentioned in the original Call for Abstracts, the closing date for submissions is 31 December 2007. Between now and then, we do not expect to post any submissions on the Social Audit website. There could possibly be exceptions, but there are three main reasons for this general rule:

  • It will help to maintain a level playing field: making judgements about the best submissions will be feasible only when we have seen them all.
  • At present, we are able to guarantee only eight awards of €1,000 each – though we are now actively seeking sponsorship for more, including handsome prizes for the best three. We expect to be able to report more on this in November 2007.
  • We deliberately left this long lead time to encourage submissions of Abstracts from people who are less familiar with the broader issues, and/or who need time to develop and refine their ideas.

Meanwhile, we reserve the right to mention and/or quote briefly from Abstracts sent in before the end of 2007. This would be by way of narrative of ‘the story so far’: as submissions come in, we are likely to reflect more on the questions implied by Pharmageddon and the response they get. We will advise you of relevant website updates on, or shortly before publication.

Pharmageddon is shorthand for a worst case scenario that may or may not happen - a notional end-point, a yardstick of where we don’t ever want to be. It implies that, in spite of progress, we are losing sight and sense of health. The relationship between drugs and health may in future prove a disaster, just as Climate Change may be.

The parallels with Climate Change seem strong. Pharmageddon is another gold-standard paradox: the threat arises because of progress, not in spite of it, and is compounded by natural resistance and blindness to risk. The time-scale fits too: Pharmageddon implies that our children and grandchildren will feel the worst effects.

The investigation of Pharmageddon cannot depend on measurement of physical change; nor is it linked to images of crashing icecaps and stranded polar bears. Still, there is writing on the wall and the point of the inaugural conference should be to depict and decipher it. So many big questions are in the air:

  • In relation to health output, could a viable pharmaceutical sector perform at least twice as well as it does now?
  • To what extent do ‘conflicts of interest’ mark the course of Pharmageddon?
  • In terms of health returns, do present levels of investment in drug innovation make sense?
  • Does the style and thrust of drug regulation promote lack of productivity in drug innovation?
  • What is real and what is imaginary in relation to drug ‘safety’ and ‘effectiveness’?
  • Has humanity reached some point of diminishing health returns?
  • Is there a future for a contract between patient and drug prescriber?
  • Is personal health possible when community health is not?

But what do all such questions add up to? Do they point to different issues, separate problems running in parallel? Or is there a sum of these parts: Pharmageddon?

The underlying question is simply whether it is prudent, relevant, timely and realistic to be asking this question at all? Hence our emphasis that we welcome any thoughtful Abstract, including those that seriously challenge the notion that Pharmageddon is a real risk. Heaven forbid that all signals should point in one direction.

Charles Medawar
13 August 2007


    HOME  or WHAT'S NEW?