February 19, 2013

204 Scientifically Proven? [19 February 2013]

Last week I wrote about red palm oil and how the health food and supplement industry too often over-exaggerates the benefits of their products based on questionable evidence. Unfortunately the pharmaceutical industry exhibits a similar, but potentially more serious, bias. Dr. Ben Goldacre in a February 1, 2013, New York Times op-ed describes medical research publication bias as “…a cancer at the core of evidence-based medicine.” Basically this means that “scientifically proven” is no guarantee that drugs (or supplements) are safe and effective.

Goldacre, a British physician and epidemiologist, describes the different ways in which this bias occurs, in his 2012 book Bad Pharma: How Drug Companies Mislead Doctors and Harm Patients.
• trial manipulation - trials are often purposefully designed, and the data manipulated, to favor positive results.
• funding - studies funded by industry are far more likely to be favorable than are independent studies.
• publishing - favorable studies are approximately twice as likely to be published as negative ones, and retractions of fraudulent studies often go unpublished.
• withholding data - unfavorable results are frequently withheld from government regulators who have the task of approving drugs. For example data from 8 of the10 clinical trials on the influenza drug Tamiflu, which governments have spent billions stockpiling, have never been released despite years of requests.

The problem with this situation is that regulators and physicians are making decisions which affect your health (and possibly your life) based on incomplete or misleading information. To remedy this, Goldacre is calling for more transparency – all human trials, past and present, of all current treatments be published and available for review. He gives the example of 100,000 deaths from anti-arrhythmia drugs which might have been prevented had a single study of a similar drug, which was never brought to market, been published.

Sources and further reading:
Salon article
Scientific American article
Wikipedia article on "Bad Pharma" book
Mercola article
sign petition for all human trials to be published

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.


  1. I agree totally that ALL trials related to human medicine and food products should be published. It might be of benefit, too if reviewers' remarks were published along side. Just because a paper is "peer reviewed" does not mean that flaws and questions have all been looked after. I saw an article on a French study on GMO corn. It was so badly designed I don't know how it got published but they chose to publish in an out of the main stream journal. Of course the anti-GMO crowd are all over it and decrying the review as smear. That is what I expect from them. The research would have been extremely valuable had it been done right in the first place. the results may have even been the same but they would have been defensible in the scientific community.

    1. I wrote about the French GMO study in #195 in December. Can you find the review you mentioned and post a link in a comment below it? I agree that it's important to repeat studies like this by other independent institutions. Suggest your friends at U of S apply for funding for long-term multi-generational animal feed studies.