Should We Believe School Advertising?

Advertising is an integral part of our culture and economy.  But for years, the value of advertising has been debated, with some claiming that the down side is eclipsing the plus side, or that people without a firm grasp of the truth will abuse it hoping there is a steady supply of gullible people.  As shown in this 2009 essay, the problem was evident in 2009 in the network of private schools and programs for struggling teens, and is still there alive and well on the internet with misleading web sites.  Is this just still a standard thing with private schools and programs, or has misleading advertising of private schools and programs increased?  -Lon Jun 21,’18


[October 5, 2009]  American culture is saturated by advertising.  On the plus side, advertising informs people of what products and services are available.  Without advertising we might not have any idea that somebody is producing exactly what we need or want.

However, there is a dark side:  sometimes advertising is misleading, either by not mentioning part of the story, or making claims that are exaggerated or inaccurate.  In general, the public has become pretty savvy about the questionable reliability of advertising, screening out many of the claims as “just advertising.”  However this learned scepticism doesn’t always work.

One recent example of this is the criminal charges against Pfizer Inc. for improper promotion of some of their drugs.  Pfizer pled guilty and will pay a record $2.3 billion settlement.  Part of the charges were that some drugs were successfully promoted by Pfizer for uses that had not been approved, thus misleading  the public.

Another story shows that despite a healthy scepticism on the part of the public, advertising still has an impact that might be contrary to the findings of science.  In a  recent study conducted in the United Kingdom regarding the treatment of bipolar disorder,  the research showed that  the drug valproate is most effective when combined with lithium.  While there are some indications that valproate sometimes can help when in combination with lithium, it  has much less impact when used by itself.  The conclusion is that the best therapy is combining the two when  lithium alone is not effective.

However, the report concludes that drug companies have been promoting valproate for unapproved uses because it is a better profit maker, with the result that prescriptions for valproate are climbing while prescriptions for lithium are falling.  This is just the opposite of what research has indicated is the best practice for the good of patients.  It is a good indicator of the impact of advertising on the practice of medicine, with the result that  people needing treatment might not be getting the treatment indicated as best by research.

This seems to be a problem – so, what should be done?


COMMENT:  Teaching skepticism, while avoiding cynicism, is a delicate art. Granted, not everyone wants to avoid cynicism, but it is at least important to learn to distinguish them, for ourselves and our children.

In our family, I seek a balance between understanding that businesses and businesspeople must earn money to live… and that commercial advertisements are there to convince us we need things, whether we really need them or not.

Thanks Penina. Good practical insight -Lon

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