Why we can’t always rely on medical research

An article I wrote called “Shining a Light on Hidden Medical Research: New Efforts Seek to End Publication Bias in Clinical  Trials” is now out on the 2x2 project run by Columbia University School of Public Health’s Department of Epidemiology (my former employer). Not only do I highlight the growing concerns around publication bias, but I talked to several sources who are working to tackle the problem.

It got promoted on Twitter by Dr. Ben Goldacre, one of the experts in this area and a crusader for medical transparency, and by Dr. Joseph Ross who does research on publication bias. I interviewed both of them for the article.

image

(Illustration: Research being brushed under the rug, by Jon Kalish)

Here’s an excerpt:

Most of us who take a medication expect our doctor to prescribe it based on evidence. But it turns out that basic assumption is often incorrect.
In fact, many clinical trials of medical treatments—particularly negative ones—never make it to publication in academic journals, which doctors consult to make medical decisions and the media publicize in their health reporting. According to a 2014 systematic review in PLoS, more than half of trial results are not published, and those that are published are three times more likely to come out with positive rather than negative or null results.

…In recent years, a variety of governmental and nongovernmental groups are forming or stepping up efforts to bring transparency to medical research. What remains to be seen is whether these efforts can attack a problem that has persisted for decades.