Most published articles in medical journals are “bogus,” according to science writer Richard Harris. Fraudulent stories in medical journals about pharmaceuticals lead to enormous waste and misguided expenses.
Harris’ new book is Rigor Mortis: How Sloppy Science Creates Worthless Cures, Crushes Hope, and Wastes Billions. After three decades of reporting medical stories and pharmaceutical news on National Public Radio, Harris concludes, “Simply too much of what is published is wrong.”
The problem is most studies of pharmaceuticals just don’t stand up to investigation, and most of those studies cannot be reproduced by others.
Earlier, in a 2005 article, Stanford University professor John Ioannidis had looked at a number of previous studies finding that either most or the vast majority of published medical research is false. This was even more likely to be true if financial and other interests and prejudices in a scientific field were present. False results were also more common with the fewer subjects studied, and also more likely to be false with the more researchers working on the project.
A frequent technique is for pharmaceutical companies to approach physicians to ask if they would like their name on a research paper. Physicians then sign on to a study that they are not even involved in, and have no direct involvement with, in exchange for the possibility of looking prestigious for publishing in a well-known journal. As a result, a half dozen or more names may be given to a paper where the “co-authors” don’t even know each other.
The problem is research is honest when money is not present, when no bribe for certain results is on the table. Yet without funding, nobody would bother doing research. That is, nobody except those of us in clinics who see results that are better than at other clinics, and people should be informed about it.