Though I believe Dr. Andrew Weil made a major strategic error in deciding to "go commercial"–that is, endorse products and put out his own line of nutritional supplements, per my new column on BusinessWeek.com–I continue to admire him for speaking his mind about the healthcare industry. Two points he made during my interview with him especially resonated:
1. He is highly skeptical of recent studies about nutritional supplements. He observed that "in the medical media there is an obvious agenda to discredit natural products, especially those commercially important and in competition with pharmaceutical drugs." Moreover, "Often the studies aren’t very good." He cited in particular one about vitamin E that made the front page of many newspapers last year, which he pointed out is really an assessment of previous studies, rather than a fresh study in its own right.
2. He is unwilling to publicly endorse any one brand of products entirely, including his own. He pointed out, and the court documents bear him out, that drugstore.com sued him for breach of his $14 million contract with the online distributor because he wouldn’t be a shill. "I’m not a sales person," he said. He may be paid, he suggests, but he can’t be bought.
Unfortunately for Dr. Weil, the perception once you begin going down the endorsement path is that you are a shill. If he can successfully fight the perception, he’ll be doing one heck of a job of image control. That would be nice, because his voice is needed in the ideological battle now taking place between traditional and complementary practice.
You can hear excerpts of my interview with Dr. Weil at my web site.