ProPublica have announced their plan to sell information they receive from FOIA requests and other "datasets that reflect substantial cleaning" to interested commercial users, academic researchers, and journalists. ProPublica frames many of its stories around freely available data, but are now offering the information for a fee.
ProPublica now offers as-is data for free with links to government websites, but will charge $1,000 for journalists and $10,000 for academic researchers to access public pharmaceutical spend data that ProPublica has organized. The Data Store offers a number of packages:
Policy and Medicine has been following ProPublica's stories for several years. We have noted our concern that pure number-driven arguments distort the truth and negate the many benefits of the pharmaceutical-physician relationship. After all, today's increased survival rates and high quality of life are influenced significantly by the breakthrough drugs, therapies, and treatments pharmaceutical manufacturers have discovered and developed over the past few decades. Much of industry expenditures go towards educating doctors who would not otherwise have access to cutting edge research that is vital to many treatments.
We are most concerned now, however, that ProPublica is no longer pursuing a mere investigative role as its non-profit agenda suggests. Their store allows "news" organizations to shop for research that ProPublica has either been given access to by the government through FOI requests, or data resources gathered by ProPublica's internal team.
Can a publication be disinterested when it wants to sell its data to customers?
Back in October 2010, with the help of funding from the Pew Charitable Trust, ProPublica started publishing stories in local newspapers around the country as part of their "Dollars for Docs" campaign. The website created a database that aggregated the payments pharmaceutical companies had made to physicians and voluntarily or under legal obligations, made public.
Today, Dollars for Docs' database includes $2 billion in payments to doctors, other medical providers and health care institutions that have been disclosed by 15 pharmaceutical companies from 2009 to 2011. For $1,000, journalists will now have access to the Dollars for Docs database. ProPublica will allow users to download a small sample of the data for free before purchasing the whole set.
It will be interesting to see whether the Physician Payments Sunshine Act data, set to be released fall 2014, will impact the demand for Dollars for Docs. ProPublica's website will at least foreshadow how plaintiff's attorneys and the government use organized, searchable aggregate spend data against manufacturers.