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Was Livongo’s “peer-reviewed journal article” really just an ad?

Do you know whether heartburn pills are safe for long-term use?

Here’s how an ad gets published. It’s a two-step process. I will lay it out so that even the dumbest member of the media who somehow missed this the first time when they swooned over Livongo’s outcomes can understand it now:

  1. Your employees and their colleagues write it.
  2. You pay to have it published.

Now, let’s look at what Livongo just published, touting their own outcomes, to see how, if at all, it differs from an ad.

  1. Their employees and colleagues wrote it.
  2. They paid to have it published.
    • We missed this the first time around. Our excuse is, so did quite literally everyone else who covered the story. And “covering stories” isn’t our Day Job. We aren’t journalists. We don’t even play them on TV.  We’ve never even watched journalist shows on TV, unless you include Superman reruns. Livongo seems to have a lot in common with that show, transparency being their kryptonite.

The journal is called the Journal of Medical Economics. Sounds really prestigious, so points for that. Yet virtually no other journal article cites articles in this journal, giving it an Impact Factor south of 2. (New England Journal of Medicine gets a 70.) Turns out there’s a reason no one cites it. Here’s how you get published in it. You pay them money.

They would say, yes, but we got it peer-reviewed. To which I say, apparently you didn’t in any meaningful sense. A real peer reviewer would have found and questioned all the fallacies in their article, rather than rubber-stamp some very sketchy “findings,” which for convenience’ sake are all catalogued in one place.

There is nothing wrong with advertising your outcomes, as long as your ad is labeled as an ad. You often see airline magazines with entire sections advertising various cities, using articles and pictures. But they are always labeled as ads. If you don’t do this, there is always the slight possibility, however remote, that someone doesn’t do the research to figure out that in fact this publication was pay-to-play. If that were to happen, you might see a headline like this:

Whereas a more accurate headline might read: “Livongo Pays for an Article to Claim Its Product Works.”

Update January 3: Someone contacted me to say that the correct term for paid highly information advertising is “Sponsored content.” This term would apply perfectly to Livongo’s self-generated, self-published study. They should relabel it as such.

In the immortal words of the great philosopher Pat Benatar, hit me with your best shot.

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