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Publication Bias: Why the Drugs might not work
3 min read

Publication Bias: Why the Drugs might not work

Publication Bias: Why the Drugs might not work

Research is an area I have been wanting to write a post on for a while now. But for one reason or another I have never gotten around to it. Until now.

For some time now, I’ve been following the work of a chap called Dr. Ben Goldacre. He originally trained in medicine in Oxford and London, but is now a full-time academic in the field of epidemiology, as well as a best-selling author and broadcaster.

His current work looks at how doctors might never know if the drugs they are prescribing are actually safe, or just as importantly, actually work! This might seem an unusual premise, but unfortunately it’s seems quite accurate.

Publication bias may be a term you have heard before. It may even be something you know a little bit about. But for most, it’s not a phrase we actually fully understand.

For instance; you might not be aware that studies with positive data are twice as likely to get published than studies with negative data, regardless of how well the studies were conducted in terms of design or method.

You almost certainly will not be aware that following initial research in 1980, the new anti-arrhythmic drug Lorcainide was prescribed widely to people after having a heart attack. The research showed that patients receiving this drug had a higher survival rate as a result of taking Lorcainide. But some key data from this study was not published. This data actually showed Lorcainide increased patient mortality, leading to over 100,000 preventable deaths in the United States.

This just goes to show that publication bias is a very literal risk to us all.

So rather than me regurgitate more things that have already been said, I have embedded the latest talk from Dr. Goldacre himself, speaking at the world-famous TED conference in Washington, D.C. earlier this year (April 2012).

Now the purpose of sharing this with you all is not to scare or worry you. After all, most of you reading this will have more pharmaceuticals in your cupboard than most third world countries.

You might even be on one of the highly expensive anti-TNF drugs like myself. Considering the hoops we’ve had to jump through to receive this treatment, along with the special funding required, surely this means the research is robust?

I guess we have to hope so.

But like I said, my reasons for sharing this is not to scare or panic you. And I most certainly do not want you to lose faith in your clinicians. I assure you they are doing the best they can, with the information they have.

All I’m asking is that you are aware that publication bias is a problem. This is not something one man can change, but something we all need to speak up about for legislation to change. 

If you want to read into this subject some more, check out the related posts and links below. We are all responsible for the treatments and care we receive. But how can we fix a problem if we don’t know the problem exists?

Well now your aware it exists.

Related Articles and Links:

Original TED talk in Scotland 2011 – http://www.ted.com/talks/ben_goldacre_battling_bad_science.html

Publication Bias (or, Why You Can’t Trust Any of the Research You Read) – http://www.forbes.com/sites/freekvermeulen/2012/01/06/publication-bias-or-why-you-cant-trust-any-of-the-research-you-read/

The drugs don’t work: a modern medical scandal – http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2012/sep/21/drugs-industry-scandal-ben-goldacre

British Medical Journal seeks to re-evaluate medical ‘evidence’ – http://www.drbriffa.com/2011/04/29/british-medical-journal-seeks-to-re-evaluate-medical-evidence/

Medical Journals, Reprints And Publication Bias – http://www.pharmalot.com/2012/07/medical-journals-reprints-and-publication-bias/

Publication Bias – http://www.cochrane-net.org/openlearning/html/mod15-2.htm