Medicine Is Plagued by Untrustworthy Clinical Trials. How Many Studies Are Faked or Flawed?


From Nature: “For years, a number of scientists, physicians and data sleuths have argued that fake or unreliable trials are frighteningly widespread. They’ve scoured RCTs in various medical fields, such as women’s health, pain research, anaesthesiology, bone health and COVID-19, and have found dozens or hundreds of trials with seemingly statistically impossible data. Some, on the basis of their personal experiences, say that one-quarter of trials being untrustworthy might be an underestimate. ‘If you search for all randomized trials on a topic, about a third of the trials will be fabricated,’ asserts Ian Roberts, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

The issue is, in part, a subset of the notorious paper-mill problem: over the past decade, journals in many fields have published tens of thousands of suspected fake papers, some of which are thought to have been produced by third-party firms, termed paper mills.

But faked or unreliable RCTs are a particularly dangerous threat. They not only are about medical interventions, but also can be laundered into respectability by being included in meta-analyses and systematic reviews, which thoroughly comb the literature to assess evidence for clinical treatments. Medical guidelines often cite such assessments, and physicians look to them when deciding how to treat patients.”

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  1. Some two decaes ago, during a posgraduate “advanced” seminar, a pharma insider, a top researcher in “drug discovery”, actually told us that some/one large pharma company had tried to replicate “classical” studies relevant to its drug discovery process, after spending a lot of money following the leads that those classical published experiments led them to, obtaiing no positive usefull result, i.e., a lot of wasted money, “false drug discovery leads”. Only to find out that a lot of them, the classical studies, were irreproducible. In short, to my personal opinion: Fakes.
    That was a little over 2 decades ago. When I asked him why the company didn’t publish that?, right there in the seminar with 10-15 other graduates at a top “Pharma” research university, the insider, top researcher said, paraphrasing, that now that discovery was actually a corporate advantage. The other companies should spent their own money to find out “same as we did”. “Let’em eat irreproducible scientific cake too”.

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