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10.5: A Student Example- “Categorizing My Research on Drug Advertising” by Jeremy Stephens

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  • For this assignment, Jeremy was required to write an essay similar to the assignment outlined above, to categorize his research and to draw some conclusions about his evidence based on these categories. “This was a hard assignment, and I’m not sure if I did it right,” Jeremy wrote in a memo that introduced this project. “It did help me to see more clearly what evidence I had and what I needed.”

    Categorizing My Research on Drug Advertising

    When I started to take a closer look at the different sorts of evidence I had gathered for my research project on the problems of drug advertising on television, I noticed several different trends. To get a better understanding of the evidence, I began by categorizing all of my evidence by the type of media-- books, web sites, articles from academic and professional sources, and articles from more popular sources. From there, I divided the evidence into two additional categories: those that supported my working thesis on limiting drug advertisements and those that did not support my working thesis.

    One of the things I noticed is that I had not realized how much evidence I had from trade and professional sources, things that weren’t really academic but that weren’t from popular sources either. I’ve decided to focus on these sources and some web site sources too because they have made me think more carefully about my topic.

    My working thesis is that drug commercials on television ought to be severely limited because they are misleading and make false or exaggerated claims about the benefits of the drugs. Some of the articles in professional and trade publications disagreed with this thesis. For example, Carol Rados wrote an article called “RX Ads Come of Age,” published in FDA Consumer, which is a publication of the Food and Drug Administration. Rados wrote “There seems to be little doubt that DTC advertising can help advance the public health by encouraging more people to talk with health care professionals about health problems, particularly undertreated conditions such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol” (22). While Rados does note that there has been a lot of criticism of drug ads on TV, she makes it clear that the benefits actually outweigh the harms of these ads.

    However, many of the professional sources agreed with my thesis. For example, Emma Dorrey’s brief article in Chemical and Industry titled “FDA sends 23 warning letters to drug companies” supported my thesis because it points out that there have been a number of problems with the ads. Dorrey reports that the drug industry claims to work hard at self-regulating and that the companies say the ads educate consumers. However, despite the laws and the efforts of the FDA, there are still a lot of misleading ads:

    One of the problems, according to Barbara Mintzes of the Center for Health Services and Policy Research at the University of British Columbia in Canada, is that the FDA can only regulate after the fact. And “companies do not face any sanctions other than needing to withdraw the ad if the information is inaccurate or misleading”(6).

    I also noted that I had two articles from trade publications that focused on media, publishing, and advertising, both of which supported my working thesis. The first came from the publication Broadcasting and Cable, which I accessed via the WilsonSelect database. In the article titled “Relaxed Rules on Drug Ads Find Allies,” Bill McConnell reports on a move by the FDA to relax the rules for drug companies to list the side effects of their medications, a move that would help the drug companies.

    The second was an editorial by Allan Wolper in Editor and Publisher titled “Accepting Drug Ads a Risky Proposition.” Wolper tells the story of a controversial cholesterol medication that was being simultaneously criticized and advertised in The New York Times in November 2004. As Wolper points out, “pharmaceutical ads present an ethical problem for newspaper sales acceptability departments, which love the revenue the ads bring in but worry that the claims associated with them will hurt the credibility of their news organization” (22). Both of these articles were published in trade journals for the media, which benefits by the money drug companies pay them to advertise their products. However, both of these articles express how these ads can ultimately hurt their credibility, too.

    Almost all of the web sites I came across supported my working thesis too. I looked at a lot of different sites, but I rejected any site that did not name the author or who had an author that wasn’t familiar to me because I just wasn’t sure if they were credible. I also rejected web sites created by drug companies because of the obvious bias of these sites.

    Instead, I focused on web sites maintained by news organizations or other organizations I had heard of and that seemed credible. For example, I came across an article on the Consumer Reports web site called “Free rein for drug ads?” The article, published in February 2003, says that there has been a decrease in the number of drug ads being reviewed by the FDA, and this drop-off of the number of letters sent from the FDA to drug companies about their ads “has raised concerns among some legislators and policy researchers because it leaves potentially false or misleading drug information in the public eye for longer periods.”

    I also read a transcript of an internet chat with Dr. Jeffery Kahn, who was’s bioethics columnist. Kahn chatted over the internet with all kinds of different people about drug advertising. Kahn said that he thought drug companies were “overzealous in how they market, leading to misunderstanding and confusion for patients.”Judging from the rest of the transcript, it appears that most of the participants agreed with Kahn. One of the things that I thought was interesting about this piece of evidence was how the source made it more credible. If it had just been a chat session somewhere out on the internet, it wouldn’t have been as good of a source.

    Categorizing my evidence was a helpful exercise for me. I knew that I had evidence from a variety of different kinds of sources, but by focusing on trade publications and credible internet sources, I feel like I am in a good place to start my research project. Looking again at these professional publications and web sites has made me think about my working thesis more carefully.

    Works Cited:

    “Chat Transcript: Jeff Kahn on Drug Marketing Ethics.” 16 August 1999. 20 June 2005 <>.

    Dorrey, Emma. “FDA Sends 23 Warning Letters About Drug Ads.” Chemistry and Industry 7 February 2006: 6.

    “Free Rein for Drug Ads?” February 2003. 15 June 2005 <>

    McConnell, Bill. “Relaxed Rules on Drug Ads Find Allies.” Broadcasting and Cable 19 January 2004:34. Electronic. WilsonSelect. Eastern Michigan University Halle Lib. 15 June 2005.

    Rados, Carol. “Truth in Advertising: Rx As Come of Age.” FDA Consumer July-August 2004: 20-27.

    Wolper, Allen. “Accepting Drug Ads a Risky Proposition.” Editor and Publisher January 2005: 22.

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