February 11, 2022

John Abramson

Harvard Book Store's virtual event series welcomes physician and health care policy expert JOHN ABRAMSON for a discussion of his latest book, Sickening: How Big Pharma Broke American Health Care and How We Can Repair It. He will be joined in conversation by Dr. HELEN MACDONALD, research integrity and publication ethics editor of The BMJ.


The United States spends an excess $1.5 trillion annually on health care compared to other wealthy countries—yet the amount of time that Americans live in good health ranks a lowly 68th in the world. At the heart of the problem is Big Pharma, which funds most clinical trials and therefore controls the research agenda, withholds the real data from those trials as corporate secrets, and shapes most of the information relied upon by health care professionals.

In this no-holds-barred exposé, Dr. John Abramson—one of the foremost experts on the drug industry’s deceptive tactics—combines patient stories with what he learned during many years of serving as an expert in national drug litigation to reveal the tangled web of financial interests at the heart of the dysfunction in our health-care system. For example, one of pharma’s best-kept secrets is that the peer reviewers charged with ensuring the accuracy and completeness of the clinical trial reports published in medical journals do not even have access to complete data and must rely on manufacturer-influenced summaries. Likewise for the experts who write the clinical practice guidelines that define our standards of care.

The result of years of research and privileged access to the inner workings of the U.S. medical-industrial complex, Sickening shines a light on the dark underbelly of American health care—and presents a path toward genuine reform.

About Author(s)

John Abramson has been on the faculty of Harvard Medical School for twenty-five years, where he teaches health care policy.  He also served as a family physician for 22 years, during which he was named a "top doctor" six times in local, state, and national surveys. In addition to many academic articles and op-eds in the New York Times and other publications, he is the author of Overdo$ed America: The Broken Promise of American Medicine. Dr. Abramson has appeared on Today, CNN's American Morning, NPR's All Things ConsideredCBS Evening NewsNBC Nightly NewsThe Dr. Oz Show, and elsewhere. He lives near Boston.

Dr. Helen MacDonald works as an editor for The BMJ, an international, general medical journal. She has received training and experience as a family physician, in journalism and evidence based medicine, in London and Oxford. Over her 12 years at the journal Helen has commissioned, edited and podcasted a wide range of academic and less formal content, often working on creating and communicating evidence for doctors, patients and the the public to share together. More recently she has worked on The BMJ's content, campaigns and conferences on overdiagnosis, medical excess, commercialisation and the production of better evidence.