Even Medical Research is Often Flat-Out Wrong

Have you ever noticed how often published medical research contradicts other medical research? Personally, I long ago gave up on trying to follow whatever medical advice was currently being highlighted in the news, because I discovered that it would soon be contradicted by another study sooner or later.

Now, a Greek medical researcher named Ioannidis has shown why a huge fraction of published, peer-reviewed medical research results are flat-out wrong. A couple of quotes from an article about him:

“Ioannidis laid out a detailed mathematical proof that, assuming modest levels of researcher bias, typically imperfect research techniques, and the well-known tendency to focus on exciting rather than highly plausible theories, researchers will come up with wrong findings most of the time.

“Simply put, if you’re attracted to ideas that have a good chance of being wrong, and if you’re motivated to prove them right, and if you have a little wiggle room in how you assemble the evidence, you’ll probably succeed in proving wrong theories right.

“His model predicted, in different fields of medical research, rates of wrongness roughly corresponding to the observed rates at which findings were later convincingly refuted: 80 percent of non-randomized studies (by far the most common type) turn out to be wrong, as do 25 percent of supposedly gold-standard randomized trials, and as much as 10 percent of the platinum-standard large randomized trials.

“The article spelled out his belief that researchers were frequently manipulating data analyses, chasing career-advancing findings rather than good science, and even using the peer-review process—in which journals ask researchers to help decide which studies to publish—to suppress opposing views.”  …

“He and his team have shown, again and again, and in many different ways, that much of what biomedical researchers conclude in published studies—conclusions that doctors keep in mind when they prescribe antibiotics or blood-pressure medication, or when they advise us to consume more fiber or less meat, or when they recommend surgery for heart disease or back pain—is misleading, exaggerated, and often flat-out wrong. He charges that as much as 90 percent of the published medical information that doctors rely on is flawed.”

What’s the connection with education? Simple: many of the platitudes the public has been fed about education are flat-out wrong, are based on biased studies, and have been clearly refuted. In the medical field, powerful and wealthy drug companies (and unscrupulous doctors) often have powerful financial motives that lead them to publish studies claiming that such-and-such a drug or medical operation is helpful. Yet, we find out later that those drugs or treatments kill more people than they help.

Today, in the field of education, powerful, well-connected, and wealthy publishing companies make millions (or is it billions?) of dollars publishing tests and test prep manuals. The super-rich people who run those companies (in testing or in medicine) don’t send their own children or relatives to public schools or hospitals. Yet they – and billionaires like Broad (rhymes with Toad) and Gates want to control the lives of all of the rest of us and to destroy public education as we used to know it.

I strongly recommend reading the entire article. Here is the URL:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/print/2010/11/lies-damned-lies-and-medical-science/8269

or http://tinyurl.com/medicalLies

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. of course, this researcher is probably biased and created a model with wiggle room to advance his career…. mole hill.

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    • Check out the article. Ioannidis is probably going to be the first one to agree that he indeed has biases, and that they are hard to eliminate. But it’s not a mole-hill that he and his team is dealing with. I have heard that in the USA alone around a hundred thousand of people die each year from errors committed by doctors or because of bad prescription drugs.

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  2. interesting article – thanks for sharing

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