American News

The Daily Devil’s Dictionary: Defining “Conference”

Pharmaceutical industry, Big Pharma, Drug industry, drugs, conference, USA news today, US news, USA News headlines, American news, United States

© Anton Gvozdikov

November 15, 2017 13:17 EDT

Making intellectual endeavor truly and literally addictive.

Today’s 3D Definition: Conference

According to Wikipedia, a conference or a symposium is a gathering intended to “provide an important channel for exchange of information between researchers.” They are routinely organized for many academic and scientific communities, permitting the sharing and development of knowledge in a particular field.

Different fields of inquiry may conceive conferences with variations in the emphasis concerning the expected results. With their unparalleled marketing budgets and their engagement in expensive research, pharmaceutical companies have proved particularly artful in organizing conferences designed to help members of the medical profession live more comfortable lives.

In an article about the opioid crisis in the United States, The New York Times mentions a recent report that “cites decades of marketing and industry-sponsored physician ‘conferences’ aimed at expanding opioid use by minimizing the dangers of addiction.”

The New York Times puts conferences in quotes to highlight the particular nature of such events for the pharmaceutical industry.

Here is its 3D definition as understood in the pharmaceutical industry:


An expensive and prestigious but generally productive event, often with a holiday atmosphere, suitable for manipulating professionals’ and the public’s perception of products that lead to immediate satisfaction or relief as well as promoting “customer loyalty” (a term to be defined in a future post of the Daily Devil’s Dictionary as “addiction”).

Contextual note

A research paper by Dr. Art Van Zee details the practice of commercial conferences by Purdue Pharma, considered to be largely responsible for the growth of the US opioid epidemic that, according to The New York Times in the article cited above, “kills 50,000 Americans a year.”

“From 1996 to 2001, Purdue conducted more than 40 national pain-management and speaker-training conferences at resorts in Florida, Arizona, and California. More than 5000 physicians, pharmacists, and nurses attended these all-expenses-paid symposia, where they were recruited and trained for Purdue’s national speaker bureau. It is well documented that this type of pharmaceutical company symposium influences physicians’ prescribing, even though the physicians who attend such symposia believe that such enticements do not alter their prescribing patterns.”

Historical note

In a recent article, The Guardian exposed the downward trend in efficacy and the upward trend in cost of academic conferences, leading to an often shared conclusion that “many academic conferences are a waste of time and money.”

This may be true of traditional “academic” conferences, but it is clearly not true of certain professional conferences, such as those organized by Purdue Pharma (Sackler Group). As The New Yorker recently reported, “Purdue had a speakers’ bureau, and it paid several thousand clinicians to attend medical conferences and deliver presentations about the merits of the drug. Doctors were offered all-expenses-paid trips to pain-management seminars in places like Boca Raton. Such spending was worth the investment: internal Purdue records indicate that doctors who attended these seminars in 1996 wrote OxyContin prescriptions more than twice as often as those who didn’t.”

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: Anton Gvozdikov /

Support Fair Observer

We rely on your support for our independence, diversity and quality.

For more than 10 years, Fair Observer has been free, fair and independent. No billionaire owns us, no advertisers control us. We are a reader-supported nonprofit. Unlike many other publications, we keep our content free for readers regardless of where they live or whether they can afford to pay. We have no paywalls and no ads.

In the post-truth era of fake news, echo chambers and filter bubbles, we publish a plurality of perspectives from around the world. Anyone can publish with us, but everyone goes through a rigorous editorial process. So, you get fact-checked, well-reasoned content instead of noise.

We publish 2,500+ voices from 90+ countries. We also conduct education and training programs on subjects ranging from digital media and journalism to writing and critical thinking. This doesn’t come cheap. Servers, editors, trainers and web developers cost money.
Please consider supporting us on a regular basis as a recurring donor or a sustaining member.

Will you support FO’s journalism?

We rely on your support for our independence, diversity and quality.

Donation Cycle

Donation Amount

The IRS recognizes Fair Observer as a section 501(c)(3) registered public charity (EIN: 46-4070943), enabling you to claim a tax deduction.

Make Sense of the World

Unique Insights from 2,500+ Contributors in 90+ Countries

Support Fair Observer

Support Fair Observer by becoming a sustaining member

Become a Member