Scientific Fraud in Medicine: More Than a Few Bad Apples

July 21st, 2009

Via: Alliance for Natural Health:

Finding that most clinical results are misleading, or simply wrong, assumes that the studies were biased but honestly conducted. The assumption of honesty is the default approach for a scientist. You assume that the results represent the true experimental findings. However, recent findings suggest that medicine has a particular problem with scientific dishonesty.

Scientific fraud is a pronounced problem in clinical medicine and particularly in pharmaceutical research. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) conservatively reports deficiencies and flaws in 1 or 2 studies in every 10.

Dr Daniele Fanelli’s study illustrates the problem clearly. When asked if they had ever fabricated, or falsified results, up to 5% of scientists admitted outright cheating. One third of scientists admitted questionable practices. That is, they manipulated their data to give a false impression. The scientists modified the outcome to “improve” results. A similar one third of scientists admitted observing misconduct in others. Notably, those scientists who participate in fraud are often serial offenders. Having successfully fabricated one study, they find fraud easier than the painstaking task of conducting valid studies. The published figures on scientific fraud are clearly underestimates. Expecting all fraudsters to admit their offence when asked for your study is naive, even if you do guarantee not to tell.

Fanelli reminds us too that the conventional response by the orthodoxy to the revelation of fraud, in which blame is deflected on a “few bad apples” such as Hwang Woo-Suk’s fake stem-cell lines or Jan Hendrik Schön’s duplicated graphs, is short of the mark. It seems the problem is somewhat more endemic.

Worse than this, Fanelli shows us that misconduct is more prevalent in clinical, medical, and pharmaceutical research — the very area that “gold standard” clinical evidence is held in such high repute. This misconduct is a consequence of the large financial interests in studies of drugs and other treatments. A minor change in the percentage of people benefiting from a treatment in a study could affect billions of dollars in future sales. We know that most of these clinical studies are reporting false and misleading results from statistical considerations alone. We need to add a specific bias from fraud and data manipulation. When deliberate deception is included, we conclude that modern “evidence-based” medicine needs a health warning.

Research Credit: efs

One Response to “Scientific Fraud in Medicine: More Than a Few Bad Apples”

  1. oelsen Says:

    And thus vanished the trust into other scientific fields.

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