Lancet’s editor calls fraudulent medical research a ‘scar on the moral body of science’. But it’s really just part of an entire system of fraud in medicine.
by Heidi Stevenson
14 August 2011
Medical science is rampant with fraud. At the Mayo Clinic, ten years of research that appeared to be leading towards harnessing the immune system to fight cancer is worthless because of fraudulent studies and later research based on the fraudulent ones.
Retraction of medical research papers is at an all-time high. Though error was cited at a 3 to 1 rate over fraud, one must seriously question whether simple error is the primary reason. After all, these studies are peer-reviewed. They are supposed to have passed rigorous examination. But, what’s the reality?
Of course, as Gaia Health readers have seen over and over, the reality is that flaws in much of medical research are blatant. Often, merely examining a study, instead of taking it at face value, demonstrates that the conclusions are not supported by the evidence.
Nonetheless, those same studies are cited as evidence of efficacy of drugs and procedures. Even after papers have been retracted, the impression they’ve given doesn’t disappear. Research based on those papers is already designed and in process.
Doctors are loathe to change their practices on the basis of bad studies. Changes are made more readily as new drugs and procedures are advocated, not as old ones are discredited. Just take a look at doctors’ continuing to prescribe bisphonates for the nonexistent disease, osteopenia (pre-osteoporosis), and hormone replacement therapy for another nonexistent disease, menopause—or even the routine prescribing of fever-reducing drugs, which is nearly always counter-productive.
Does Better Error Detection Explain the Retractions?
Some medical journals are claiming that they’re better at detecting errors, implying that there really isn’t an increase in fraudulent papers. That explanation simply doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. They offer no explanation as to what might make them better at detecting errors now. In other words, the august journals are basing the claim on absolutely nothing but wishful thinking.
Worse, some are claiming that the advent of plagiarism software explains it. But how does finding plagiarism in papers explain fraudulent studies?
The simple fact is that they’re finding more fraudulent studies because they’re actually looking for them. And not as a result of their own internal reviews, but because of fraud scandals that reached mainstream media.
Why So Much Fraud in Medical Studies?
There is a tremendous amount to be gained by getting away with fraud in medical studies. The reason is simple. According to Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet:
A single paper in Lancet and you get your chair and you get your money. It’s your passport to success.
It’s all about money. Get published in a major medical journal and your future is made. Most peer reviewers are doing their own studies. That’s what makes them peers. They want to be able to publish. Therefore, they are not particularly inclined to make more than perfunctory negative comments. Obviously, they don’t want to alienate the authors of papers, since they either are or hope to become published themselves.
Peer review is a farce. The only kind of review that makes real sense is professional independent reviewers. Yet, for decades we’ve had peer review trotted out as the be-all and end-all in determining the legitimacy of papers. It’s been unquestioned, while a little examination of the concept demonstrates that it’s nearly certain to result in fraudulent work being passed as good science.
Fraud Is a Scar on Science
Richard Horton says that this fraud “is a scar on the moral body of science.” That’s certainly true. How many patients have been harmed? We’ll likely never know, as these examples show:
Vioxx, the pain medication that causes heart attacks.
The deeply flawed statin studies that hide the adverse effects, not to mention lack of efficacy.
The antidepressant and antipsychotic studies that have hidden adverse effects and lack of efficacy, too.
The misguided studies on salt that continue to claim that lower salt intake needs to pushed, when the opposite is probably true. In most people, there is a direct relationship between salt intake and death rates. The lower the salt intake, the greater the death rate, as demonstrated by a good study published in JAMA.
Even the system that’s supposed to control fraud in studies before they ever reach the stage of publication is corrupt, as documented in this sting operation. The fraud is systemic, from the start of drug trials that are financed directly and indirectly by Big Pharma, to the competition among researchers hoping to make their first million, to the journals that accept the fraudulent reports, using an obviously biased system of peer review to hide behind and financed almost totally by Big Pharma ads, to the doctors who choose to blindly accept whatever the journal reports say because it’s easy, gives them cover, and also brings patients to them.
Signifying the Inherent Corruption in Conventional Medicine
Yes, this is the system of evidence that conventional medicine claims justifies its existence. Instead, it demonstrates that conventional medicine is anything but evidence-based. There is no sound basis for most of modern medicine’s treatments, as should certainly be obvious with the constantly increasing rate of chronic disease.
Take a look at the advent of drug resistant diseases, which are growing rampant and often far more virulent. Or look at the false claims of disease eradication through vaccines, when any rational look at the evidence shows that it’s not modern medicine we need to thank, but adequate food, good water, and good sanitation systems. Consider the advent of a new kind of whooping cough, 10 times more virulent than the old version and caused by the vaccine itself, while being blamed on the unvaccinated!
Even when there has been apparent success, we often find that it’s short-lived and has presented us with worse problems than the ones apparently resolved.
We are, indeed, entering a brave new world of conventional medicine. Unfortunately, the ones who need to be brave are the patients, because they’re going to need every bit of resource and resilience they can find to avoid being little more than recipients of whatever modern medicine’s pseudo-science manages to spew forth.
While Dr. Horton’s comment about fraudulent studies being a “scar on the moral body of science” is true, the whole truth is far more disheartening. The entire system of conventional medicine has become a scar on the psyche and soma of humans.
Note: The title has been changed. It originally read “Cancer Research of 10 Years Useless: Fraudulent Studies, Says Mayo Clinic”, giving the impression that the Mayo Clinic made the statement that ten years of studies had been lost. The Mayo Clinic acknowledged that 17 studies, going back to 2002, involving a single cancer topic were fraudulent. However, the Clinic did not state that that 10 years of research were lost, though it can readily be inferred by the nature of the studies, how frequently they were cited, and how they formed the basis of an entire line of research.