Ben Goldacre, the Bad Science column writer and at present, Wellcome research fellow in epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, has a book coming out soon (Bad Pharma: How Drug Companies Mislead Doctors and Harm Patients). I’ve not seen it yet, but when I do I’ll get you a review as soon as I can. Mean time, he’s written a nice piece for the New York Times.
Bottom line: All that icky stuff you hear, think, assume, guess, wonder about regarding the medical industry, especially Big Pharma? Well, a lot of it is true. The NYT piece is especially focused on the file drawer effect. The is where studies that show result B are put quietly in the file drawer, while studies that show the result A (the one you were hoping for) are published and publicized. In some areas of science there are actually rules that stop this from happening (or slow it down, anyway) but in pharmaceutical research (and psychology, I’ve heard) it probably happens a lot
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.
Ben will probably be around quite a bit promoting his book so expect podcasts and stuff.