The New York Times reports that Pfizer will end its Lipitor ads featuring Robert Jarvik as a spokesman; his contract was already set to expire next month.
The ads had been attacked for misleading consumers about Jarvik’s qualifications – a pioneer in making artificial hearts, he’s not a cardiologist and isn’t licensed to practice medicine – and about his athletic prowess, using a body double in an ad that implied he was a vigorous rower. Pfizer’s president of worldwide pharmaceutical operations, Ian Read, said: “The way in which we presented Dr. Jarvik in these ads has, unfortunately, led to misimpressions and distractions from our primary goal of encouraging patient and physician dialogue on the leading cause of death in the world — cardiovascular disease…. Going forward, we commit to ensuring there is greater clarity in our advertising regarding the presentation of spokespeople.”
To add in another issue, some of Dr. Jarvik’s former colleagues have complained that the ads wrongly attributed inventorship of the artificial heart to him. (This is unlikely to be material to consumers, but it’s very material to his former colleagues!) As the Times reports, at least one former colleague claims inventorship himself, while three former colleagues argued that credit should go to Dr. Jarvik’s mentor, Dr. Willem J. Kolff, and his associate, Dr. Tetsuzo Akutsu. Even in the brief account in the Times there are other contenders for credit: “a large team that worked on the heart,” and another former colleague, Dr. Clifford S. Kwan-Gett, who “stated that the Jarvik series of hearts were simply different versions of prototypes that Dr. Kwan-Gett had made more than a year earlier.” Dr. Jarvik’s company begs to differ. This reinforces my conviction that attribution problems are already hard enough when there’s no money at stake.