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Getting back on the horse

By Andrew Gunn - posted Monday, 7 July 2008

As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.

OK. I just hope starting with a Bible reading made this commentary harder to attack.

People say you should get straight back onto horses that throw you, and late last year I was thrown by a hobby horse.


I discussed pharmaceutical marketing in this forum and, before you could say "academic freedom", Gardasil's manufacturer pounced upon me. CSL sent a firmly-worded complaint to my university's Vice Chancellor. He was told that I'd been unprofessional, incorrect and inappropriate.

The university decreed that the drug company required my apology. Apparently I'd misled listeners that the views I'd expressed were my university's and not my own.

Several journalists disagreed. The university initially dismissed public criticism as a storm in a teacup before falling silent, perhaps illustrating that putting both feet in your mouth leaves you with no leg to stand on.

To cut a long story short, I was eventually told an apology wasn't needed. This was a relief because "I apologise for your stupidity" wasn't even accurate, let alone acceptable.

I've survived my tussle with a university and a drug company.

But not every doctor is so lucky, and not every university is like mine.


Nancy Olivieri is a physician and researcher who clashed with a drug company, her hospital and her university. Her situation partly inspired the novel and subsequent movie The Constant Gardener.

Olivieri became concerned about a drug's side effects. The company sponsoring her research warned her not to tell her patients or publish her findings.

But she did so, and was subsequently dismissed from her hospital and university positions. A proposed $55 million grant from the drug company to the university was widely thought to be a factor.

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This is article is based on a transcript from ABC's Perspectives on June 25, 2008.

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About the Author

Dr Andrew Gunn is a Brisbane GP, editor of New Doctor, National Treasurer of the Doctors Reform Society and Senior Lecturer, School of Medicine, University of Queensland.

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