Ben Goldacre is a doctor, journalist, blogger and writer whose media profile has risen exponentially over the past few years, particularly with the release of his last book on the pharmaceutical industry, Bad Pharma.  But who is the real Ben Goldacre- and what does he really stand for?

   Whilst Bad Pharma catapulted Ben Goldacre’s career firmly into the mainstream (and his trendy hip-doctor/guardian-journo persona seemed to capture the interest of the public imagination)- the content of Bad Pharma had more or less been covered already by other writers such as David Healy , Marcia Angell and others- over the years.

   Actually, most of the topics and issues in Goldacre’s book had also already been covered on this blog alone – predating the content of his book by five years ( I set up this blog in 2007- Bad Pharma was published in 2012).

   In other words- for a seasoned pharmaceutical industry critic, patient advocate, ex-Seroxat addict and blogger like me – what he had to ‘reveal’ about the badness and misdeeds of pharmaceutical companies was hardly revelatory at all. I could  have written it myself as I was certainly familiar with most of the information.

All that aside- what interests me most about Goldacre is his association with GlaxoSmithKline.

   Back in 2003- Goldacre received the GSK/ABSW award for his Guardian article ‘never mind the facts’. The article itself was basically a rebuttal piece in defense of MMR Vaccines and thus in turn- a defense of the pharmaceutical companies who make them and somewhat of an attack on those who claim that they can cause harm.

   I am no expert on vaccines or their link to Autism, nor would I ever claim to be- but I am well versed in pharmaceutical misdeeds- in particular those of GSK (I have been researching and blogging about GSK related issues for over 7 years now). I am aware that one of GSK’s vaccines, Pluserix was banned in 1992 and like other GSK medicines-  such as Seroxat and Avandia- not only was it causing immense harm- but GSK were allegedly aware of it.

  From my own experience of Seroxat- I would like to categorically state that I believe GSK were aware that Seroxat might harm me but like many instances with many other GSK products, they failed to warn- because all that matters to GSK is the health of GSK. Profit is the bottom line. Patients- like me- are merely collateral damage. However, considering that Goldacre is a psychiatrist (a fact he seems resistant to overtly publicize) maybe he just doesn’t care much for those who claim to be harmed by psychiatric drugs like Seroxat? Nonetheless- there is surely enough quackery and pseudo-science in Seroxat marketing which could keep a self-proclaimed quack-buster like Goldacre steeped in column inches for months.

   GSK have a murky history of malpractice and deception- their corporate history is littered with headline after headline of disturbing unscrupulous behavior. They are quite simply- pathologically sociopathic when it comes to harming the public. As a physician- I am surprised that Ben Goldacre would be so quick to jump to their defense- surely fraudulent clinical trials, intimidation of critics and widespread corruption resulting in damage to patients- would go entirely against the physician’s hippocratic oath?

Not so- it seems… in Ben Goldacre’s world.

Below is a picture of Goldacre receiving his BSW/GSK ‘science writers’ award from (none other than) GSK’s infamous Seroxat apologist Alastair Benbow (pictured right) in 2003. Apparently the award includes a 2000 pound bursary. (see link)


Benbow was interviewed by BBC Panorama for their Seroxat documentaries and in (a diabolically delivered) defense of Seroxat he basically eventually admitted that Seroxat caused some children to commit suicide (after previously denying this in the Panorama documentary before it). Chillingly, Benbow seemed to think that this fatal side effect was almost inconsequential in the grand scheme of pharmaceutical depression treatment.

   The year Mr Goldacre was receiving awards from GSK for writing articles in favor of the pharmaceutical industry, was also the year that coroners in the UK were calling for a withdrawal of GSK’s Seroxat from the market (see here).

   2003 was also the year that (due to overwhelming evidence from the public) GSK were forced to abandon their no addiction claim about Seroxat. (see here)

   The year that Ben was posing with an award from a GSK funded initiative is also the year that the UK regulator banned Seroxat for under-18’s due to it’s propensity to make them suicidal- a sinister fact that GSK failed to inform the public of- for years. (see here)

 (Thankfully, for users of Seroxat, it was Ben Goldacre’s colleague- Sarah Boseley of the Guardian -who covered most of these stories)

   According to a tweet (screen-grab below) sent in 2010 in response to Seroxat Secrets, Goldacre, knows the’ Seroxat story well‘ and apparently he thinks it’s ‘vile‘. If this is the case then perhaps he would relay his opinion on Seroxat to his chum Andrew Witty because Mr Witty doesn’t seem to give a damn about Seroxat at all. If Goldacre really thinks that the Seroxat story is so vile- then why be so chummy with GSK?


   Goldacre’s stance on pharmaceutical companies seemed to take a sharp turn with the release of Bad Pharma, which on the surface paints them in a very negative light. However, since most of the content of Bad Pharma had already been covered either online,  by blogs, in news-articles or in print form already- one would have to question whether it really had any negative impact at all on the reputation of the industry? Did it enlighten us to anything we did not know already?

   An insightful (albeit also complex) review of Bad Pharma from David Healy (not so bad pharma) seems to conclude that the problem with Bad Pharma rests not upon the repetition of content already covered, or the many flawed arguments raised which seem to rally against the pharmaceutical  industry but actually often work in their favor, “but on the premium Ben puts on controlled trials not found in other books”.

  You would have to read Healy’s review a few times to understand just how flawed and  -dare I say it- impotent –Bad Pharma is- particularly from a patient’s (or patient advocate’s) perspective. Perhaps it’s justified to ask- if a book highlighting the badness of Pharma actually serves to work in their favor in the long term- what use is it for the benefit of the public? Are we any safer? Possibly not.

   In a video of a parliamentary discussion of clinical trial transparency in the UK parliament from April 2013- Goldacre sits alongside GSK exec- James Shannon, and William Burns from Roche (19:06:00). In this inquiry, Goldacre refers to GSK as being ‘rather badly behaved‘ in the past- he then goes on to congratulate them on their current progress towards atonement (a fairy-tale like ‘atonement agenda’ which Goldacre seems to be swallowing hook-line-and sinker). The irony of this is- GSK have no intention of giving any access to clinical trials which predate 2000- therefore trials on drugs like Seroxat will not be released for inspection (Seroxat Trials pre-date the 90’s).

   I find Goldacre’s choice of words also quite astounding- ‘rather badly behaved‘ really doesn’t describe the destruction of life from a defective drug like Avandia or Seroxat.  “Rather badly behaved‘ doesn’t illustrate the magnitude of a 3 Billion dollar fine for fraud and corruption does it? “Rather badly behaved‘ is the kind of phrase we might use in regards to naughty children who won’t do their homework- not the UK’s biggest drug company (with the responsibility and power to enhance or extinguish human life on any given day depending on which way their ethical compass intends to sway). Goldacre then proceeds to  heavily criticize Roche and their Tamiflu debacle -conveniently leaving GSK looking much more ethical by comparison.

In an interview from March 2013– Goldacre says that he met Andrew Witty, CEO of GSK, before the announcement that GSK will release all trial data relating to its current products, with older data being released over several years. “He’d obviously thought very carefully about the practicalities of it, and that reassures me – he’d thought about how to do it, what the costs would be, and I think it’s to his enormous credit.”  Following the announcement Among one of many celebratory tweets, Goldacre said the news was: “Amazing. Fantastic. Historic.

   Thanking GSK for its decision, he added: “This is the beginning of the end for a dark era in medical history.” This ‘end of an era‘- and ‘the beginning of a new ethical GSK’ concept– has long been the mantra of Andrew Witty and GSK- particularly in regards to crimes that were committed prior to Andrew Witty’s tenture as CEO. I’m sure that GSK is delighted to have people like Goldacre championing (and echoing) its PR agenda- tweets from Ben Goldacre (with 250,000 followers) go far and wide.   Furthermore, these are just the perfect type of glowing PR sound-bytes that- pharmaceutical reputation management consultants- can’t even buy for GSK. Goldacre’s support must therefore be -utterly invaluable to them…

   And here we come back  again to Ben Goldacre and his association with GSK. At every given opening in the clinical trial transparency debate- it seems Ben Goldacre  just can’t resist an opportunity to lavish praise upon GSK CEO Andrew Witty. In an article from October last year (2012) he says:

“I think Andrew Witty, the current head of GSK, is a good guy, and I discuss this at length in the afterword of Bad Pharma: because I don’t realistically think that we can rely on one person in one company being nice, as a strategy to address ongoing regulatory failure in a global $600bn industry where lives are at stake.” (see here

   Perhaps Goldacre is incredibly naive, easily manipulated, under a spell, or utterly gullible? or maybe he genuinely does believe that GSK have changed their spots? I really have no idea

  However, considering that Andrew Witty has worked for GSK in various high level positions for most of his adult life I think it would be safe to assume that as CEO now he would have knowledge of most things that have – and do occur -within the company- including those things which would often undoubtedly come under the banner of big bad pharma

   And Ben… “good guys don’t become CEO’s of Billion-dollar Global Pharmaceutical companies”…

“You cannot hope to bribe or twist,
Thank God, the British Journalist,
For seeing what the man will do
Unbribed, there’s no occasion to.1

What is true cannot be minted

into a falsehood, even by

the most distinguished professor. 4

1 Anon.
4 Samuel Hahnemann.”

(Quotes Kindly Taken From


26 thoughts on “Would The Real Ben Goldacre Please Stand Up?

  1. Benbows eyes give him away. They betray him. He has started to look like a war criminal on the ‘Yesterday’ TV Channel. Strange how eyes can’t be madked bar wearing dark glasses. Sleep well Mr Benbow, you were only following the Dollar.

  2. This is a bizarre blog post that relies on cherry picking and conspiracy theories.

    The appalling story of GSK witholding vitally important information on seroxat is covered at length in Bad Pharma. So are numerous other crimes by GSK, including those leading to the $3bn fine. I think that book has given an accessible explanation of exactly what they and other companies have done, and why it is harmful, to more people than any other, in the UK at any rate.

    The selective quote you use – on people who work in industry saying that Witty is a “nice guy” – is part of an argument that meaningful change in industry cannot come from the whim of one individual moving in the right direction, who in any case, even if they are “nice”, might slip on a banana skin at any moment and be replaced by someone who reverses their promises. Because we’ve already seen that happen with pharma companies, specifically GSK. As I explain.

    I think GSK’s failure to release everything they have on 329 is wrong and self-defeating, as I’ve said in numerous places.

    I’ve no contact or relationship with GSK. You make a pretty big deal out of a prize the Guardian entered me for a decade ago, which is discussed around p322/325 of Bad Pharma, in the context of where we draw the line over conflict of interest (“A decade ago, in my twenties, the Guardian entered me for the 2003 Association of British Science Writers prize. I arrived on the night and won: wandering drunkenly to the stage, I saw the prize was partly sponsored by GSK, along- side some august scientific bodies. I took the cheque, with some muttering.”) Clearly you think there is a dark and sinister element to this story, much more than I am telling you. I can’t imagine what. I suppose I’m not a puritan on conflict of interest, I don’t build castles out of stories like that, you must struggle to reconcile your views with the large quantities of money Healy has been paid by the pharmaceutical industry.

    There are big problems in medicine that I want to see fixed. Where people do good things, I’ll applaud them, and I’d encourage you to do the same. That doesn’t mean they get a free pass. I do think it’s great that GSK they’ve made a commitment to sharing all CSRs, results, and registering all trials. I also think it’s great that they’ve gone further than other companies in signing up to a public campaign, the campaign: calling on others to do the same, and recognising that this is a serious problem that impacts on patient care. As we’ve said in numerous places, we’ll be watching them like hawks to audit their compliance with their promise. If they fail, they will expose themselves to ridicule and derision. I’ll also continue to tell people about the appalling things GSK have done, at great length, in books like Bad Pharma, which is currently advertised on the tube, in the window at Waterstones, and just dropped out of the top ten bestsellers list.

    1. Ben,

      Thanks for your comment. The blog post was quite simply illustrating how pharmaceutical companies manipulate people into believing their PR. It is one thing to look at what GSK did from the luxury of an abstract perspective- it is quite another- when you and your life is part of the collateral damage. Unfortunately that’s what happened to me and many others.

      Perhaps you should look at the 4 panorama documentaries on Seroxat and then you might understand just how sinister a crime was committed in regards to that vile drug. We are talking about a drug which killed people Ben… how more serious can that be? And for the ones it didn’t kill- many suffered severe damage.

      I was not making a big deal about your GSK prize- I was merely highlighting what was going on with Seroxat at the time (2003)- which I am sure you were unaware of? – otherwise you would have been too disgusted to take a prize from a drug company involved in such heinous crimes against vulnerable patients?

      You seem to think that GSK are backing Alltrials for the good of their heart- the only reason they do anything is for their image- and the operative word here is “Image“. They shouldn’t be getting pats on the back for claiming that they aim to deliver on very basic ethical premises which should have been in place decades ago. They have had decades to be ethical…

      It’s like applauding the cigarette companies for putting warnings of Cancer on cigarette boxes. (isn’t it great that they are trying to be humane? Let’s all tell them how good they are)

      GSK are projecting an image of ‘ethics’ and ‘morality’ because they know that is what the public expect to hear. It’s not that they want to be ‘good’ – it’s that their reputation can’t appear to be projecting anything less. Heaping sycophantic praise on them creates good PR for them in the short term and that’s all they want. (Good PR deflects from stuff like the ongoing GSK corruption scandal in China- what’s your views on that scandalous debacle?)

      I still am completely flabbergasted that you insist on believing that Andrew Witty is a nice guy- it’s simply not possible to have a moral compass and be the head-honcho for a company like GSK. Are you really that gullible? Seriously?

      Of course, he would be nice to you- you are useful to him (and GSK’s PR Agenda) and already GSK have milked a lot of mileage out of your praise for them- but do you think they would be nice to me? Or anyone else who was prescribed a defective GSK medication- like Seroxat or Avandia? Do you think Witty would be so keen to set up cosy little meetings with the parents of kids dead from seroxat-induced suicide?

      Or how about Myodil victims(maybe you could do a blog post on that?)

      If he is such a goodly nice fellow- why does he not apologize for the Seroxat Scandal?

      If you really are on the side of patients then perhaps you should do a little more coverage on Seroxat/Avandia/Myodil and all the other GSK related stuff on your blog?

      You are in a very good position to affect real change- but believing pharma-spin, and behaving like a puppy dog anytime they produce a morsel of what appears to be an ethical bone (and heaping praise upon what essentially amounts to a smoke-screen) is hardly going to do it..

      As for David Healy..

      Healy was not taking cheques from GSK in 2003- he was in fact- exposing the whole Seroxat scandal with panorama at the time…

      He is one of their fiercest critics.. and I would encourage you to be more like him.. he is smarter than the lot of you put together… and he is a genuine patient activist…

      That said though… you do sell a lot of books!..
      Fair play…

      1. Have you read Bad Pharma at all?! He excoriates GSK and especially the Seroxat debacle. Bad Pharma was the first I’d heard of it.

      2. Yes I have read it and I’m not disputing that Goldacre is critical of industry but he could hardly write a book called Bad Pharma and not mention GSK’s scandals considering that they are some of the biggest ones in pharmaceutical history. My problem with all this is the way Mr Goldacre seems to lavish praise upon Andrew Witty and GSK in regards to data-transparency promises which they have yet to fulfill and which they have broken before. They have been promising access to data since 2004 – when they were forced to embark on this course by the NY attorney general at the time – Elliot Spitzer (see Alison Bass – Side effects). They have yet to deliver real transparency. They are using Goldacre’s street cred in order to gain good PR… it’s as obvious as night and day…

      3. Thank you Truthman. And all other bloggers. Am collateral damage. Brain destroyed but to the Goldacres and all KOLs of this world, people like me are expendable, matter not a jot. Despite their fancy words and protests.
        Would like them to live in my brain for just a few seconds…

  3. “I do think it’s great that GSK they’they’ve made a commitment to sharing all CSRs, results, and registering all trials. I also think it’s great that they’ve gone further than other companies in signing up to a public campaign, the campaign”

    Maybe so, but they had to do that Ben, it was part of the agreement they made with the DOJ. They have not done this because they are the good guys. Don’t be fooled into thinking AllTrials have scored a victory here, they haven’t. GSK are merely offering you a sweet wrapper with no sweet inside.

    You trust GSK to do the right thing, which is admirable. Let them [Witty] start by retracting the Paxil Study [329] from the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, something they [GSK] still believe isn’t the fraud that we all know that it is.

    Let them [GSK] also make it easier to gain access to clinical trial results and not to have to jump through hoops to gain that access.

    Let’s see Witty, if he is indeed a “nice guy”, sit down with patients harmed by Seroxat [he has been asked but refused]

    Let’s hear Witty talk about his involvement with Zyban back when he was VP of Marketing for GSK. Ask the Whistleblowers in the recent $3 billion lawsuit about Witty’s involvement.

    Part of an era? Hardly an excuse one would use to console those left to mourn the loss of their children, friends, partners.

    Be wary of the wolf in sheep’s clothing Ben.

    With the greatest respect Ben, you are not the only one who has been writing and researching about GlaxoSmithKline. We [bloggers/authors] may not have the white coat and stethoscope or have the image and publicity but we do know what we are talking about when it comes to this company and their abhorrent history.

    Bob Fiddaman

    Author and Blogger.

      1. Trials going back to 2000 are useless for many people damaged by Seroxat and Avandia.. You really think that you have any influence on GSK ? They are using you like a siting Duck…

      2. I had an email to this comment section from Ben stating, “Hi Bobby Fiddaman,

        please can you quote for me the paragraph in that document that requires GSK to share all CSRs on all trials going back to 2000.”

        but the comment seems to have been deleted?

        Firstly, read my previous comment. I never stated what you said.

        In reference to your comment above, re “I’ll let you in on my evil masterplan”

        C’mon Ben, you can do better than that. If you wish to praise GlaxoSmithKline for doing ‘good things’ then bravo. I’ve yet to witness anything good this company has done.

        They may have promised to do good but, as far as I can see, they have not yet delivered.

        It appears, to me at least, that you are sticking up for GSK, this is the same company who fraudulently disseminated false results of a pediatric clinical trial. Let’s never forget Ben, that this dissemination put children at risk, something which you appear to overlook.

        Ben, I do not wish to have a pissing contest with you publicly. However, I do question your judgement and naivety when it comes to trusting this abhorrent [second time I’ve used that word] company.

        Ask Witty to meet with me or other patients that have suffered at the hands of Seroxat – go on Ben, ask him.

        You are in a powerful position Ben, you are, for all intents and purposes, the new kid on the block, the guy with an image, you appeal to the younger generation because, it has to be said, you are a good looking guy who has a great [modern] dress sense.

        Stop and think about it Ben. Who would Glaxo want on their side? Obviously, they wouldn’t choose me [they tried to sue me a few years ago]

        You appear on TV, Radio, in the press – who better to highlight just how caring GSK are than Ben Goldacre?

        Honestly Ben, chew the cud with me, contact me, meet me for a coffee, beer, whatever.

        You are being used my friend.

      3. Ben

        you really should contact Bob Fiddaman, he has enough knowledge about all this to fill a couple of books!

        I agree with Mr Fiddaman- you are being used by GSK- everyone can see it but you…

        Don’t let them take you for a fool..

  4. Indeed Mr Fiddaman,

    “As part of the settlement, GSK entered into a five-year Corporate Integrity Agreement
    with the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human
    Services. The agreement requires enhanced accountability, increased transparency
    and wide- ranging monitoring activities conducted by both internal and independent
    external reviewers. Specifically, among other things, the agreement requires”

    1. Got anywhere with what?
      Certainly no conspiracy theory here, and no witch-hunt.
      Just illustrating how easy it is to be-dazzled by the power and prestige of pharmaceutical companies..

      Be wary of them Ben- they care for nothing but their own self-interest..
      People are just pawns or collateral damage to these corporations..
      Don’t be fooled..

    2. You should contact Bob Fiddaman
      There’s stuff he could tell you that would make your hair stand on end..
      (stuff not in the public domain)
      Don’t be fooled or seduced by their promises Ben.. they are using you.. many people can see that… I’m sure your heart is in the right place- that’s also why they are taking advantage of you… they are opportunists.. don’t let them deceive you… wish you all the best..

  5. I’ll let you in on my evil masterplan. I’m going to carry on telling the public about bad things industry does, giving accessible explanations of technical misdeeds to the widest possible audience of patients and policy makers. I’m going to carry on praising industry when they do good things. And I’m going to carry on holding industry to account for delivering on their promises, as with Roche and their failures over Tamiflu, as with GSK.

    You can carry on doing what you’re already doing, but it saddens me to see good effort from good people being wasted. I honestly think you could do more effective things than shout at me in blog posts, claiming that I’m some kind of paid collaborator. But I’ve very broad shoulders, and I’ve had worse smears from pharma!

    1. That’s great Ben

      You’re playing straight into GSK’s hand and they’ll toss you and Alltrials aside as soon as they’re done. That’s the way they operate.

      I was hardly shouting at you in blog posts – you did take a 2000 pound prize from a GSK representative who took part in 2 BBC documentaries about Seroxat-Suicides and you do seem quite enchanted by Andrew Witty.

      The post was not a smear – it was merely drawing attention to the manipulation tactics of pharmaceutical companies. If you actually took the time to read more than the blog post about you then you might be a little more informed as to what this blog is about but it seems that you’re not that interested in dealing with the real-world effects of the themes which you theorize about in your books and your writing. I was on Seroxat so for me it’s not some abstract headline – it’s very real.

      If you can suggest what myself and Fiddaman should be concentrating our efforts on that would be greatly appreciated.

      Unfortunately, we don’t get paid for our investigative reporting – we do it because we really believe that those who were damaged by Seroxat deserve to be heard…

  6. This whole discussion regarding Ben Goldacre is distressing to me. David Healy and Ben Goldacre are two medical doctors that I have great respect and admiration for. I believe that they each have done their part, as MDs, to speak out against pharmaceutical industry malfeasance. I have previously stated my opinion on this topic (for what its worth) at the link below. I absolutely hate when advocates, either professional or lay, at are infighting. I work for change – not for whose opinion is more correct – politically or otherwise. And please don’t try to engage me in further discussion on this point. I have nothing more to say.

    “As previously said in the comments section by Ben Golacre, “Bad Pharma is an attempt to give a straight explanation, for the general public, of various well-documented shortcomings in trial design, trial reporting, and evidence dissemination.” In this regard, I think Dr. Goldacre has done a great job in engaging the public at large with a very informative and engaging book covering very difficult scientific issues related to the medicines ordinary people take every day. I don’t think that anyone would seriously think Goldacer’s Bad Pharma to be an academic treatise on these issues. On the other hand Dr. Healy has written many books, covering these same issues, that are rightly considered academic works, although as such they may not eventually be as widely read by ordinary folk. In the end it is about public engagement in the demand for safer & effective medicines. The industry side is well coalesced – time for the advocacy side to do the same.”

    Neil Carlin

    1. I agree with Neil Carlin above. It makes me sad to see infighting and mudslinging, as well as blowing things out of proportion – for example Dr. Goldacre’s phrase “rather bad behaviour” struck me as typical British understatement that really didn’t detract from the outrage displayed in the book.
      Please don’t interpret that as taking sides, I was only using one example. As far as I am concerned anyone who takes on the role of educating the public, stays informed, asks the difficult questions, and encourages critical thinking, as you all do, is a hero in my eyes.
      Healthy criticism is always welcome but let’s try to make it a bit more constructive. Some of what was said here is reminiscent of schoolyard taunts, and only has the effect of weakening the group and promoting disharmony. We’re all on the same side remember?

      Keep up the good work.


      1. Hi Mike,

        Thanks for your comment, every comment here is valued. The post was in no way intended as mud-slinging and to be honest I’m not sure that everyone is on the same side. I know which side I’m on- that’s the side of patients and particularly those damaged by Seroxat because that’s what I was prescribed and that’s what harmed me.

        “Rather bad behavior” might be a typically British understatement but personally I think it’s exactly that kind of dumbed down, neutered and neutralized language in regards to heinous acts which is part of the problem.

        Why not call them what they are? Avandia killed people, Seroxat killed people.. acts of Corporate manslaughter would be more apt..

        Just because Ben writes about GSK in his book doesn’t mean that he is doing anything near enough to criticizing them. What he wrote in his book about GSK is public knowledge. It’s hardly novel investigative journalism.

        Call me a Skeptic .. but Consistently slavish praise for Andrew Witty is enough to make me be extremely critical…

        For more on this see here

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