The “Pharma Profit” Gambit


The surgeon and scientist Dr. David Gorski is famous for his detailed dissections of various opening maneuver of the anti-vaccination movement and the complementary and alternative medicine, which includes the “Toxin” gambit and the “Pharma Shill” gambit. The “toxin” gambit involves claiming that vaccines contains “toxins”, when, in reality, toxicity is dependent on dose (among other factors) and the “Pharma Shill” gambit is when proponents of alternative medicine or anti-vaccination lunacy claims that critics are secretly paid by large pharmaceutical companies instead of addressing the actual arguments.

Most defenders of science based medicine have heard the “Pharma Profit” gambit. It boils down to asserting that large pharmaceutical companies just want money, and therefore their products, like vaccines, are fraudulent and dangerous. This view is epitomized by the journalist Dani Veracity in an article called “Pharmaceutical fraud: How Big Pharma’s marketing and profits come before consumer safety and wellness” on the website where Veracity states that “Modern medicine is a platform for profit, not health”.

Needless to say, there are a few problems with this line of though: it is the logical fallacy of appeal to motive, making profits in the long run may precludes deceit, everyone makes money, income from vaccine sales are relatively low compared to other drugs and producing a vaccine is a poor way for making money compared with truly unscrupulous business tactics.

Appeal to Motive

When opponents of vaccines claim that vaccines are dangerous because pharmaceutical companies are making a profit from selling them, they are performing the fallacy known as appeal to motive. The fallacy occurs when a person is calling into question the alleged motives of an individual to discount the validity of the statements that this individual is putting forward. Examples of this fallacy is claiming that someone who accepts evolution is only doing so because he hates the biblical god or do not want to be held accountable. Even if large pharmaceutical companies only cared about making profits, it does not logically follow that vaccines are dangerous.

Income from Vaccine Sales are Relatively Low

At the most a person will get an initial shot, then maybe a booster or two. Compare this with anti-depressants or cholesterol medication, which one needs to take more or less every day for the rest of one’s life. In comparison, the profit from vaccine sales are relatively low.

Pharmaceutical Companies would have Profited more from an Uncontrolled Pandemic

In an uncontrolled pandemic, pharmaceutical companies could have sold many different types of antiviral drugs, sedatives, pain killers and increased hospitalization would have increased the profit earned by hospitals, doctors and insurance companies compared to mostly the profits from a single vaccine. So even if pharmaceutical companies only cared about making a profit, the conspiracy theorists are still mistaken, since it is clear that this is a much better way to make money.

Making Profits in the Long Run May Preclude Deceit

If you are making a product as central as vaccines, the FDA, Hospitals and other interest groups are going to want some guarantees that it is an effective and safe product, otherwise they will probably not purchase it. So the pharmaceutical companies will have to provide some independent means of checking this, which includes animal testing, large-scale scientific studies on effectiveness and concomitant use studies which makes sure that the new vaccine does not conflict with other vaccines on the schedule. Vaccines are, in fact, one of the most regulated products in the United States.

If the products you make are substandard and fails the scientific tests, then they are not going to be bought and the company producing them will not have made any money, but thrown millions and millions of dollars on research and development down the drain. The pharmaceutical companies wants to make money. To make money means having their products approved and having them approved means they will have to be safe and effective. This is a general and oversimplified outline. To be sure, there have been drugs that have been pulled off the market due to side effects.

Everyone Makes Money

If making a profit is enough to reject the claims made my someone, then we should logically reject the alternative medicine (CAM) business, which is an industry that makes around 40 billion dollar per year. Many of the leading figures in the CAM and anti-vaccination movement also makes quite large profits from book sales, advertisements on their websites, donations and so on.

To sum up, the “Pharma Profit” gambit is merely an elaborate way to derail the discussion and avoid having to defend their irrational views against rational and scientific criticisms. It is a logical fallacy, and even if it was not, it would still be an erroneous argument.

Emil Karlsson

Debunker of pseudoscience.

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