By: Robert Oliva
There is a cancer eating at the core of medical research.
You’ve most likely heard of medical reports touting the effectiveness of a diet plan, a new drug, a supplement, or medical procedure. You may have even decided on a course of action based on these findings, only to find out later that they have been refuted by new studies.
Strikingly, the odds are that the studies that influenced your decision, and possibly the decision of your doctor, were wrong.
We are bombarded by medical research studies that don’t stand the test of time and potentially cause serious negative health outcomes.
Perhaps, because of this, you’ve become jaded about the newest health findings. I don’t wish to dissuade you from how you feel. In fact, this article will show you how untrustworthy medical research is and what you must do to protect yourself and loved ones.
The Case Against Medical Research
Medical research is fraught with incompetence, careerism, and fraud. In the April 15, 2015 edition of Lancet, the UKs leading medical journal, editor-in-chief Richard Horton stated: “The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue.”
He ominously went on to say “… science has taken a turn toward darkness.”
As early as 1996, voices were being raised against the scandal of medical research. Douglas G. Altman, head of Medical Statistics Laboratory in the UK, asked the following question in the British Medical Journal (BMJ):
“What… should we think about researchers who use the wrong techniques (either willfully or in ignorance), use the right techniques wrongly, misinterpret their results, report their results selectively, cite the literature selectively, and draw unjustified conclusions?”
“We should be appalled. Yet numerous studies of the medical literature… have shown that all of the above phenomena are common. This is surely a scandal.”
In 2005 Dr. John P.A. Ioannidis, currently a professor in disease prevention at Stanford University, published the most widely accessed article in the history of the Public Library of Science (PLoS) entitled Why Most Published Research Findings Are False. In the report, he stated:
“There is increasing concern that most current published research findings are false.”
And that “…in modern research, false findings may be the majority or even the vast majority of published research claims.”
Ioannidis’ research model indicated that up to 80 percent of non-randomized research studies (the most common kind of study) are wrong, along with twenty-five percent of randomized trials (the supposed gold standard of research). Incredulously, these studies are published in top peer reviewed medical journals.
These numbers indicate that much of what our physicians prescribe to us is wrong. Our doctors use research to inform their medical decisions – decisions like what drug to prescribe, what surgery to elect, and what health strategy to adopt. They are making crucial treatment decisions for depression, Alzheimer’s, type 2 Diabetes, cancer, obesity, etc. based on bad, incomplete or hidden medical research. Remember Vioxx, Hormone Replacement Therapy, anti-arrhythmia drugs, high carbohydrate diets? The lives of hundreds of thousands of people were damaged or ended prematurely.
What’s Wrong with Medical Research?
There are serious deficiencies in medical research that have an onerous impact on our well-being.
Research Bias – Ioannidis defines bias as “the combination of various design, data, analysis, and presentation factors that tend to produce research findings when they should not be produced.” Many researchers enter their study with a specific finding in mind and, not surprisingly, they find it.
“At every step in the process, there is room to distort results, a way to make a stronger claim or to select what is going to be concluded,” and there is an “intellectual conflict of interest that pressures researchers to find whatever it is that is most likely to get them funded.”
Bias can happen in numerous ways, such as how the research is designed, how the samples are selected, and how subjects are pressured, or though errors in data collection and measurement or publication bias. All of this leads to erroneous results and potentially disastrous medical advice.
Publication Bias – various industries, governments, and regulatory agencies may severely distort the truth by omission. Nearly half of all research studies never see the light of day. According to Live Science:
“Oftentimes, medical journals or pharmaceutical companies that sponsor research will report only “positive” results, leaving out the non-findings or negative findings where a new drug or procedure may have proved more harmful than helpful.” In other words, the truth is hidden.
An example of this occurred with nearly 100,000 people dying from taking “safe” prescription anti-arrhythmic drugs in the 1980s. Or more recently, when none of the negative studies of the anti-depressant reboxitene were published.
This leaves us and our doctors in the dark about the efficacy and safety of drugs and medical procedures. We are systematically being misled!
See Dr. Ben Goldacre’s Ted Talk to learn more.
Conflicts of Interest – many studies, especially drug studies, “…have the added corruptive force of financial conflict of interest.” The more embedded the financial and other interests in the outcome of a study, the more likely the findings are going to be false. Ioannidis’ own research found that conflicts of interest “are common in biomedical research and typically they are inadequately and sparsely reported.”
Conflicts of interest are not limited to financial matters:
“Many otherwise seemingly independent, university-based studies may be conducted for no other reason than to give physicians and researchers qualifications for promotion or tenure.”
Research findings can be distorted by: small sample size, poor choice of methodology, and erroneous statistical analysis, all of which are widespread in medical research.
What Can We Do to Protect Ourselves?
Given the distorted, corrupt and unreliable state of much of medical research how can we know what to do?
Short of ignoring research altogether, there are ways we can protect ourselves.
You can tell that a research study is probably wrong if:
- It’s simplistic, universal and definitive. It touts a cure for cancer, obesity, and aging.
- It’s supported by a single study, small studies or animal studies. One small study of mice proving a cure for dementia.
- It claims to be groundbreaking. The truth about heart disease has finally been discovered.
- It is being pushed by people or organizations that will benefit financially.
- It’s geared toward preventing a recent trauma or occurrence from happening in the future. A quick fix to solve serious and complex problems.
- I would add that association does not prove causation. Unless a study is a randomized control trial (RCT) it can not prove that one thing causes another, such as red meat causing heart disease.
Read Doctoring Data by Dr. Malcolm Kendrick for an in-depth study of flawed medical research.
There are efforts being made within science to rectify the problem with medical research. But much remains unreliable and downright wrong. We cannot afford to be fooled by flawed studies. Arm yourself with knowledge. Review the scientific reliability of a course of action. Discuss it with your physician. This can help in wading through the biased and damaging studies given the light of day in scientific journals and media. Take responsibility. Your life may depend on it.