The Evolving Nature of AdComm Watching – Not for the Birds

Some people watch birds.  They get field glasses, walk in groups in wooded areas, and observe, catalog, and discuss birds.  There are volumes of books written about various aspects of bird watching.  Different shapes, different sizes, different species.  I’ve noticed, while on my dog walks, that these folks are very into what they do.

I do not bird watch.  I do watch FDA Advisory Committees.  I observe them.  I catalog them.  I discuss them.  Different shapes, different sizes and different species.  There are device ones, drug ones, biologic ones and even policy oriented ones.  I don’t have binoculars, but there is equipment one needs in pursuing this hobby.  I even compose large volumes – noting where they gather, what they do, how they interact and analyzing their behavior.  Since I began this hobby several years ago, it is notable how much things have changed.

It used to be quite more a hassle.  For example, today the curriculum vitae of each advisory committee member could only be obtained by filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)  request and promise to pay for the copying.  Once filed, you could count on several weeks for the information to arrive in your mailbox.  In order to fulfill my watching hobby, I needed to file FOIA requests regularly for each and every committee and keep them in large file drawers where I would periodically have to refile when members terms expired on various committees, which of course, happens at staggered times, depending on  the committee.

Frequently, to help a client prepare, I would have to watch recordings of previous meetings involved in a particular therapeutic category, lots of them.  This involved ordering several VCR tapes and popping them into a VCR.  Today, of course, these can be placed on discs that pop into the computer.

If you couldn’t get to a meeting that was being held, you used to have to order the tapes. Today, you can watch it being web-streamed – in your car on your phone or i-Pad.

Back then, you had to wait until a reporter filed their story to find out what happened. Today, you can follow someone live blogging from the event where you can get very granular news –

“Chairperson coughed…”

“Breaking for lunch…”

“Laughter in the crowd…”

that you wouldn’t have gotten in the old days.  Or you can follow the “group think” by observing the tweets of whole flocks of people at a meeting just by watching what comes up under a hashtag on Twitter.

All this sounds like it might have been decades ago.  It wasn’t.  It was about a decade ago. A lot has changed in the past ten years.  And a lot will undoubtedly change in the decade to come.  But one thing I think will remain constant among us AdComm watchers is that, for all of our watching, I don’t think that at the end of the day, we will be any better able to tell you which way the species will fly when it comes to voting.  As recent meetings have demonstrated, we have come a long way, and we have a lot of experience, but the species is still largely elusive.

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