Pharmaceutical companies routinely engage physicians, particularly those with prestigious academic credentials, to deliver “educational” talks to groups of physicians in the community to help market the company's brand-name drugs.
Although presented as educational, and even though they provide educational content, these events are intended to influence decisions about drug selection in ways that are not based on the suitability and effectiveness of the product, but on the prestige and persuasiveness of the speaker. A number of state legislatures and most academic medical centers have attempted to restrict physician participation in pharmaceutical marketing activities, though most restrictions are not absolute and have proven difficult to enforce. This article reviews the literature on why Speakers' Bureaus have become a lightning rod for academic/industry conflicts of interest and examines the arguments of those who defend physician participation. It considers whether the restrictions on Speakers' Bureaus are consistent with principles of academic freedom and concludes with the legal and institutional efforts to manage industry speaking.