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Myth 4: Breakthroughs Are Good Public Relations

Modern medical research is capital intensive. Institutions and individuals engaged in research must constantly seek new infusions of money. Some of this money comes from the federal government, but increasingly it comes from private foundations and for-profit businesses. The competition for these funds is fierce. Grant seekers must differentiate themselves from their competition. This is usually done by announcing breakthroughs.

A cynic might define a breakthrough as a dangerous, expensive, and/or extremely limited treatment offered as a general remedy for a common medical problem. Hardly a week goes by without a medical breakthrough or a miracle drug being trumpeted in the lay press. This publicity creates unreasonable expectations; patients show their physician the news clippings touting the latest cure. If the physician is unwilling to try the medication or procedure, the patient will often look for a physician who will.

The most obvious examples are AIDS treatments and cardiac drugs. Researchers create the illusion that their drug will work miracles if only the Food and Drug Administration would allow them to sell it. This has been especially cruel to HIV carriers, many of whom have become convinced that the government is suppressing effective AIDS treatments.


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