Thursday, April 08, 2010

Everybody's Doing It - Health Care Leaders Appeal to Common Practice

There were two examples in the recent news about how health care leaders employ logical fallacies to advance their positions.

Caritas Christi / Cerberus

We posted recently about the proposed takeover of the not-for-profit Caritas Christi hospital system by the Cerberus Capital Management private equity firm. We proposed skepticism about the idea. For-profit hospitals have not been shown to provide better, cheaper, or more accessible care than not-for-profit hospitals. There is reason to worry that a private-equity firm would put margin ahead of mission. The Boston Herald interviewed Dr Ralph de la Toree, the current CEO of Caritas Christi, who would continue to run the health system after the takeover. Asked about the role of Cerberus,
De la Torre dismissed concerns that Cerberus’ executives - and their investments - may not jibe with Caritas’ social justice mission.

Cerberus investor J. Ezra Merkin, for example, is facing civil fraud charges because of his ties to disgraced money manager Bernard Madoff. Besides its failed Chrysler investment, Cerberus has also invested in companies, such as gunmaker Remington Arms, that some Catholics may not support.

De la Torre admitted Cerberus has a diverse portfolio and said most boards of local nonprofits have members who have made their money through questionable means.

The last sentence is a good example of the appeal to common practice. Basically, the logical fallacy is that because many do it, doing it must be good.

Although we are often critical of the cronyism of boards of for-profit corporations and not-for profit organizations, even I would not go so far as to suggest that most boards include people who have made money unethically. Regardless of the prevalence of this pheonomenon, however, boards of health care organizations should be composed of people of integrity and honesty who support the mission of the organizations.

Professor Uwe Reinhardt

We recently posted about how prominent health economist and public health care intellectual Professor Uwe Reinhardt of Princeton University has failed to disclose conflicts of interest when opining about health policy. A follow-up interview of Reinhardt on SFGate.com included:
I invite you to look at the Wall Street Journal [reporters] and see their list of boards.

I have no idea whether Wall Street Journal reporters fail to disclose their memberships on boards of companies relevant to the subject of their reporting. We have frequently discussed conflicts of interest and how they can influence medical care, teaching and research, and health care research and policy. I agree that  such conflicts are frequent, and often go undisclosed. Again, however, Prof Reinhardt seemed to be using an appeal to common practice. Just because others have failed to disclose conflicts of interest does not make such failure right.

Interested readers may want to review the interviews of De La Torre and Reinhardt to see if they can find other logical fallacies.

Note that we have frequently quoted Dr Joe Collier, "people who have conflicts of interest often find giving clear advice (or opinions) particularly difficult."  [Collier J. The price of independence. Br Med J 2006; 332: 1447-9. Link here.] We have discussed examples of how conflicted people seem to easily resort to logical fallacies to defend their conflicts (e.g., see post here.)

I do not think it is too much to ask prominent health care leaders to use evidence and logic, not logical fallacies to make their arguments.

Those who do use logical fallacies are inviting even more skepticism about their arguments and the agenda behind them.

3 comments:

Cetamua said...

"Those who do use logical fallacies are inviting even more skepticism about their arguments and the agenda behind them."

May I rephrase the above?

Those who do use logical fallacies are dispelling skepticism and invite certainty about the lack of validity of their arguments and the agenda behind them.

MedInformaticsMD said...

De la Torre admitted Cerberus has a diverse portfolio and said most boards of local nonprofits have members who have made their money through questionable means.

"Questionable means?"

If this was meant as justification of practices in any way, shape, or form, his type of statement goes beyond "appeal to common practice" to "appeal to honor among thieves."

It reflects, at best, moral relativism.

Moral relativism and medicine are bitter enemies, at least the medicine of sages such as Hippocrates and Galen. Galen wrote a small work called "That the Best Physician is also a Philosopher", and he saw himself as being both, which meant grounding medical practice in theoretically sound knowledge or "philosophy" as it was called in his time.

Two thousand years later, now we have charlatans and thieves spewing lotgical fallacy and moral relativism in healthcare.

Such philistine minds best be removed from medical affairs, rapidly.

MedInformaticsMD said...
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