Monday, February 21, 2011

Astroturf or Simple Bribery? Do We Need a New Term?

Leonore Tiefer, PhD, has done a lot of excellent work on the medicalization of sexuality ( As part of her ongoing concern about the medicalization of "female sexual dysfunction," she sent me the following e-mail:

What is the term for when a professional organization heavily funded by a pharma company that is trying to get a drug approved for a particular condition issues a statement that the condition is "a real condition and not a fabrication, nor a result of disease mongering"?

This is the situation currently with ISSWSH, the International Society for the Study of Women's Sexual Health.
On Feb 14, 2011, it issued a position statement on female sexual dysfunction
This follows the ISSWSH 2011 Annual Meeting, held 10-Feb-11 to 13-Feb-11 in Scottsdale, Arizona where BioSante presented lots of preliminary unpublished data on its testosterone drug for female sexual dysfunction, LibiGel
BioSante was also the biggest industry funder of the meeting:
Sponsors for ISSWSH 2011
Industry Partner
Diamond Contributor – BioSante Pharmaceuticals

What is the right term to describe this situation?

To which I replied that I did not know a specific term for this, besides one of my standard favorites, bribery. I had always assumed that “astroturf” was restricted to the extreme case where a supposed patients’ advocacy group is created more or less out of whole cloth by Pharma. But why bother to create a new group when you can simply go out and buy an existing one, that has a legitimate membership and board, and is willing the kiss the hem of your clothing in exchange for $$$? So I assume that “Astroturf” is the tip of the iceberg in terms of Pharma influence exercised via “patient advocacy” groups or supposedly "professional" medical or scientific associations. (In the case Dr. Tiefer describes, the ISSWSH appears to be a supposedly scholarly/professional rather than a lay or grass roots organization, but the basic idea remains the same-- a drug firm gets to circulate its marketing message as if it came out of the mouths of independent people, not from the company itself.)

If there's an existing term for the more widespread phenomenon, of paying money to supposedly independent patient adocacy groups to create false "grass roots" support for your company's marketing but without actually creating a new organization, please let us know. Alternatively please suggest a new term if you want to invent one. It's been a long time--April 2009 to be precise--since we had the contest to make up a new term, that resulted in "Pharmapologists" to name the people who like to call folks like me "Pharmascolds." ( So maybe it's time for another name-that-tune contest. Winner will receive a free subscription for this blog for one year. (The second prize will be a two-year subscription.)

ADDENDUM 2/21: Dr. Tiefer responded to this post by way of a personal e-mail in which she suggests her own name for this phenomenon, based on my comment above, "a drug firm gets to circulate its marketing message as if it came out of the mouths of independent people, not from the company itself": ventriloquism marketing.


Michael S. Altus, PhD, ELS said...

A moneypot group is a bona fide nonprofit advocacy organization that receives a lot of funding from special interests.

Joseph P Arpaia, MD said...

How about "puppetteering"

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

sorry I meant ventriloquAd

Unknown said...

Two suggestions:
"Credibility laundering" for the entity's activities as a whole---shortened to "cred lo."
And when engaged in activities like luncheons, breakfast meetings etc "credibility hosting" or "cred hos"
Harriet Rosenberg, PhD