Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Karasik Conspiracy: "the Novel the Pharmaceuticals Industry Tried to Commission, Then Control, and Finally Kill"

We have previously posted (also here and here) on the abortive efforts of the Pharmaceutical Research Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) to covertly sponsor the writing of a thriller about terrorists poisoning drugs imported from Canada to inflame the public about the dangers of importing drugs from overseas. At some point, elements of the PhRMA leadership realized their folly, and sought to cancel the project. But the spurned authors refused to accepted an additional payment to close out the project, but never to talk about it. Instead, they rewrote their tome, making a pharmaceutical company one of the villains.

The new version, now entitled "The Karasik Conspiracy," has been published, and, of course, has its own web-site. It announces, "the novel the pharmaceuticals industry tried to commission, then control, and finally kill."

The site is remarkable because it includes transcripts of many emails among the authors, the consultant for PhRMA who arranged the project, and PhRMA executives. Some choice bits:

  • On the purpose of the book - "This memo will confirms [sic] our conversation that I would like to commission the authoring and publication of a gripping fiction novel aimed at realistically depicting the potential terrorist threat to the pharmaceutical supply of our nation." "Confidentiality with respect to the origins of this project is paramount." [Mark Barondess, consultant to PhRMA, to Michael Viner, owner of Pheonix Books, the publisher] (See link here.)
  • Barondess' second thoughts seemed to be more related to his literary criticisms than concerns about the ethics of the project - "I want you to know that I finished reading the book and while improved, it is still a very difficult read. It does not matter to me that books in the spy genre are usually hard to read—all I care about is whether someone will pick up this book and either never buy it or worse yet, stop reading it. I thought that we requested that the fundamental premise of the book was to change. While the Muslim component was added in the beginning, it completely fizzles out in the rest of the book. I still do not accept the premise that Spivak is going to attempt to blackmail the US over Serbia—it is just silly. It would be better if he was just a sociopath that wants to harm Americans because we are infidels." [Barondess to Viner, July 7, 2005] (Link for this quote and all others below is here.)
    "We do not want anyone to get hurt and we will not let that happen to you or the company. The bottom line is that we still do not have a book that is satisfactory to us. Maybe with the steps we discussed today, we can get there."[Barondess to Viner, July 9, 2005]
  • On the involvement of Valerie Volpe, Director of Professional and Patient Relations for PhRMA - " I have just finished my review of the manuscript. While the book is significantly improved, in my view, it still requires more editing. Valerie is reading it tonight and has promised to give me her comments by the close of business tomorrow. A couple of things will help make a decision of whether to continue forward with the book. Is there an objection if we take over the editing? It seems that it would simplify the process." [Barondess to Viner, July 11, 2005]
    "I provided the writer with literally volumes of data to guide the storyline. I spent considerable time in person with the writer clearly outlining the premise of the book and the goals we expected to achieve." [Volpe to Barondess, July 19, 2005]
  • PhRMAs attempted cancellation of the book was again based on concerns with the book's literary quality, not the ethics of the project - "The book that was sent was unsuitable in every respect, especially given the fact that the book was written by an author with no experience whatsoever in this genre. That lack of experience was apparent not only in the first draft (and pointed out to you), but in all subsequent drafts." [Barondess to Viner, Aug 2, 2005]
  • PhRMA attempted to keep the whole thing quiet, and not to have any new book derived from the project say anything derogatory about the pharmaceutical industry - "I will pay you $100K in consideration of a full and complete release of claims from all parties, agents and employees. I need a confidentiality agreement regarding the work you were performing and confidentiality of the settlement agreement. I also need an agreement that there will be nothing written in the book which is adverse to the pharmaceutical industry, and that I will have the right to approve any manuscript, consent not to be unreasonably withheld." [Barondess to Viner, Aug 2, 2005]
You just can't make this stuff up.
Assuming that this web-site is closer to the truth than the novel is, this is a vivid illustration of how leaders of big health care organizations have substituted propaganda, disinformation, and intimidation for reasoned debate and discussion about health care issues.

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