Health News Review

British physician and writer Ben Goldacre is on a North American tour.  His book, “Bad Pharma: How Drug Companies Mislead Doctors and Harm Patients,” is released in the US on February 5. The book has been discussed in The Economist, The Public Library of Science blogs, The Guardian, and elsewhere. (Addendum one day later:  Carl Elliott also reviewed the book in the BMJ.)

He also has an op-ed in the New York Times, “Health Care’s Trick Coin.”  Excerpt:

“…the entire evidence base for medicine has been undermined by a casual lack of transparency. Sometimes this is through a failure to report concerns raised by doctors and internal analyses…. More commonly, it involves the suppression of clinical trial results, especially when they show a drug is no good. These problems would be bad enough on their own, but they are compounded by a generation of “fake fixes” that have delivered false reassurance, and so prevent realistic public discussion.

The best evidence shows that half of all the clinical trials ever conducted and completed on the treatments in use today have never been published in academic journals. Trials with positive or flattering results, unsurprisingly, are about twice as likely to be published — and this is true for both academic research and industry studies.

If I toss a coin, but hide the result every time it comes up tails, it looks as if I always throw heads. You wouldn’t tolerate that if we were choosing who should go first in a game of pocket billiards, but in medicine, it’s accepted as the norm. In the worst case, we can be misled into believing that ineffective treatments are worth using; more commonly we are misled about the relative merits of competing treatments, exposing patients to inferior ones.”

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Comments

Carroll posted on February 4, 2013 at 12:15 pm

I love Ben Goldacre. He’s smart, incisive and a gifted communicator. His TED talk on Youtube about his previous book (Bad Science) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h4MhbkWJzKk comes accross as a stand-up routine. It would be funny if the issuesat stake weren’t so high.