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No Free Lunch Files: How to Make a Noble Idea Look Ridiculous

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What is the cost of free and does fighting it really make sense? Comparing Big Pharma freebies with Google WiFi.

I have been following recent debates on Big Pharma's giveaways to medical profession with quiet fascination.

Mainstream media covered the issue (Newsweek, "Say No to Big Pharma" ) as did the bloggers (Pharma Marketing Blog, PharmaGossip and Health Care Renewal to name a few).

Why such fascination?

The idea of reducing pharma's influence on prescribing practices is a noble one. Freebies are certainly a factor to this influence. But does banning them have a real effect or just makes a good show?

I am very skeptical. If a really motivated interest, like Big Pharma is thrown out of the door it will always find a way to get back in through the window. This reminds me of many "clean election reforms" in US politics. Bans or restrictions on campaign contributions in most cases led to rise of independent expenditure commitees and advantage of self-funded candidates - making matters worse.

In the end, it is the physicians who are writing scripts and free lunch or not, it is their ethical standards that will make a difference. This makes banning free lunches, pens and mugs simply pointless.

Now where is the 'ridiculous' part?

Fortunately not healthcare. It takes denizens of the People's Republic of San Francisco to show how to take fighting "influence of freebies" to absurd: "Crazy San Franciscans are fighting free Google wifi".

See, Google has a plan. Give the city free WiFi and make money on advertising. They are in the final stages of getting the go-ahead from the city, but a recent town hall meeting turned ugly:

Maybe I should have known that SF politics could get dirty, but for 2 hours Chris Sacca, Google's Director of Special Initives faced angry angry SF political gadflies who somehow think that Google giving away free internet access to the city will harm them.

One crazy guy, at one point, actually started making threatening moves towards Sacca and had to be restrained when Sacca tried to tell him that his renters wouldn't need to sign special contracts if they want to plug their wireless access card into their home computers. When the guy threatened to block the wifi signals for his renters, Sacca pointed out that he couldn't block the air and the crowd went ballistic.

Paranoia taken to the limit? What worries me is how many good ideas risk being ruined by ill-informed zeal with best intentions.

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Comments (4)

Submitted by Jane Chin (not verified) on Tue, 10/24/2006 - 8:00am.

One cannot legislate ethics. Going to extremes usually serves no one but zealots who need to preoccupy themselves with simplification of issues that are otherwise annoyingly complex. Gray areas don't make good marching slogans and can't garner too much 30-second media spotlight.

#2: Ethics
Submitted by hippocrates on Tue, 10/24/2006 - 12:59pm.

Exactly. Of course that is not to say that nothing reasonable can or should be done to improve integrity.

But when people start claiming to be "more ethical than thou" based on trivial things - I check if my wallet has not been stolen.

Submitted by Kim (not verified) on Tue, 10/24/2006 - 4:24pm.

I live close enough to "The People's Republic of San Francisco" to be able to visit, but far enough away to watch with fascination at the lunacy that goes on there.

There is a saying: "Only in San Francisco....."

Sure fits the Google situation....

Submitted by Drug Detox (not verified) on Thu, 10/26/2006 - 11:27am.

Is it time for doctors to sever their close and often corrupting ties with pharmaceutical manufacturers? Yes!

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