Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Unreliable Research?

“There is an intellectual conflict of interest that pressures researchers to find whatever it is that is most likely to get them funded.” – John Ioannidis

The Atlantic magazine recently published a story entitled “Lies, Damned Lies, and Medical Science.”  The story is a profile of statistician and medical doctor John Ioannidis, and of his work. His work -- the debunking of medical research, specifically medical research that is flawed, biased and potentially harmful.  Among his most startling conclusions:

>> Forty-one percent (41%) of the most highly regarded medical findings from 1992-2005 had subsequently been shown to be wrong or significantly exaggerated.  These were widely accepted and commonly used findings such as hormone-replacement therapy for menopausal women, vitamin E to reduce the risk of heart disease,  coronary stents to ward off heart attacks, and daily low-dose aspirin to control blood pressure and prevent heart attacks and strokes.

According to Dr. Ioannidis, the reason for such flawed research becoming common practice was basically this – 
1) if a researcher is attracted to a concept that has a good chance of being wrong, and 
2) said researcher is motivated (for whatever reason; “money and power” come to mind) to prove it right, and 
3) there is wiggle room on how the evidence is collected or assembled, then 
4) the researcher will probably succeed in proving wrong theories as right.

The kicker, as it almost always is, is money.  Sound familiar?

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