Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Big Problem in Science Publishing

In the following video a prominent medical doctor, author, and anti-anti vaccine activist named Ben Goldacre rails against a big problem in the way scientific data is published. His point is that only exciting and dramatic results get published. Because of this reality all those boring negative results that show no difference between experimental and control groups do not get published.

Take a simple experiment... a bunch of different scientists ask - does drug X work at curing a particular disease? So they get people to volunteer. They give half the people drug X and the other half a sugar pill (placebo). Now say there are 10 different studies set up just like this but only 5 show any difference in the group that took drug X. The studies that show that drug X "works" will get published while those that do not show the drug to have any effect will not get published. Why is this a problem? because the deciders at your bedside (aka doctors) will only see the papers with positive results, while never knowing that there were a bunch of unpublished studies that show drug X to be ineffective. This is a disservice to patients and doctors alike and does not help anyone.

The onus is on publishers to publish everything no matter how un-sexy the result. There is no reason in the internet-age that all results can not be archived in a universally searchable data-base. Doctors and patients need the whole picture when they make decisions, not just the bright shiny bits editors choose for them!

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