Crisis in Evidence-Based Medicine
The role of science in improving human health has been one of humanity’s greatest achievements, but the profit-oriented influence of the pharmaceutical industry has created a crisis situation. That research simply cannot be trusted. Burying truth for profit is a recurrent theme for Project Censored. The top story in 1981 concerned fraudulent testing from a single lab responsible for one-third of the toxicity and cancer testing of chemicals in America. But this problem is much more profound.
“Something has gone fundamentally wrong,” said Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, commenting on a UK symposium on the reproducibility and reliability of biomedical research: “Much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness. … The apparent endemicity of bad research behavior is alarming.”
Horton’s conclusion echoed that of Marcia Angell, a former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, who went public in 2009.
A classic case was Study 329 in 2001, which reported that paroxetine (Paxil in the United States and Seroxat in the United Kingdom) was safe and effective for treating depressed children and adolescents, leading doctors to prescribe Paxil to more than 2 million US children and adolescents by the end of 2002 before being called into question. The company responsible (now GlaxoSmithKline) agreed to pay $3 billion in 2012, the “largest healthcare fraud settlement in US history,” according to the US Department of Justice.
Nonetheless, the study has not been retracted or corrected, and “none of the authors have been disciplined,” Project Censored points out. This, despite a major reanalysis which “‘starkly’ contradicted the original report’s claims.” The reanalysis was seen as the first major success of a new open data initiative known as Restoring Invisible and Abandoned Trials.
While Project Censored noted one Washington Post story on the reanalysis, there was only passing mention of the open data movement. “Otherwise, the corporate press ignored the reassessment of the paroxetine study,” and beyond that, “Richard Horton’s Lancet editorial received no coverage in the US corporate press.”
Source: The Lancet 385, no. 9976, 2015; Cooper, Charlie, “Anti-Depressant was Given to Millions of Young People ‘After Trials Showed It was Dangerous,’” The Independent, 2015; Boseley, Sarah, “Seroxat Study Under-Reported Harmful Effects on Young People, Say Scientists,” The Guardian, 2015.