Recently, I have become increasingly a bit of a medical skeptic. Now don’t get me wrong – I am not anti-doctors or anti-medicine. But I have noticed (especially in the realm of breastfeeding, natural birth and especially vaccines) that a lot of medical professionals have no flippin’ clue as to what they are talking about (to put it as kindly as possible).
The more research I do into topics of interest – digging into resources that include, but go above and beyond medical journals – the more it triggers a massive eye twitch and bout of genuine concern when a medical professional simply parrots “conventional knowledge” as found in mainstream medical journals and then condescendingly pooh poohs outside studies, traditional wisdom and global practices.
It also wrankles me when I try to hold an intellectual discussion with friends or fellow mommies using facts, medical science and common sense, just to be given the unthinking, deer-in-the-headlights look followed by, “Well, my doctor says (fill in the blank) and that’s good enough for me.”
In America, doctors enjoy an unprecedented aura of infallibility, with many Americans holding an almost religious-like faith in their every word, decision or verdict on an issue. Many men and women feel there is no need to think, examine or question a doctor’s word, because he or she has done the thinking for you and there is no higher authority, end of story.
My opinion? That’s a BIG MISTAKE. Aside from the fact that medical professionals are men and women prone to all the errors and flaws that the rest of us mere mortals face, the heart of the issue is that the information doctors receive isn’t always the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Doctors Rely On Medical Journals for Their Current Information
In a study on how doctors and nurses stay abreast of the ever-evolving information in the world of medical science, the U.S. National Library of Medicine and Institute for Health found that medical professionals reported spending 4.4 hours on average per week reading medical journal articles and reported reading only the abstract for roughly 63% of the articles.
Respondents admitted to a reliance on medical journals as their primary source of medical information, given the limited time available for critical reading.
It is extremely important to realize that your doctor relies heavily on abstracts and prescreening of articles by editors for his or her current medical knowledge and prescription assessments.
The problem with this is that medical journals have become the infomercials of the medical world. While many people place blind and unquestioning faith in anything “scientific”, it’s important to realize that fraud can and does occur anywhere – medical journals are no exception.
Medical Journals Don’t Always Tell the Full Truth (Or Even Half Truths)
Here’s the skinny: There’s big money in medicine. Take a look at the burgeoning vaccine market, which invests staggering amounts of money into partisan research, and has soared from $5.7 billion ten years ago to $27 billion today (an astonishing rise of over $20 billion).
When you have big money backing researchers, who would not otherwise be funded, what you end up with is publication bias – the practice of selectively publishing trial results that serve an agenda. Publication bias isn’t some wild or crazy conspiracy theory, it is a well-established and thoroughly studied fact. After all, the industry doesn’t pay for negative results.
It’s important to understand that our current medical system has been masterfully orchestrated by drug companies to convince the masses to use their product. Across the board, drug makers do an excellent job of publicizing the findings they want you to know, while keeping studies that don’t support their product hidden from you and the medical community. When drug companies invest in “marketing” through medical journals, the sole purpose of their advertising is to benefit the drug company’s pocketbook (not your health).
Examples of Publication Bias in Medical Journals
Publication bias in medical journals has been well studied in recent years, and they all testify to the fact that publication bias is very real, and very serious. Here are just a few examples of publication bias (there are literally hundreds more out there):
Researchers looked at all trials submitted to the FDA during the approval process of 12 different antidepressants. They found 38 positive results, and 36 negative ones. That’s just about 50/50 going either way. But guess how many of these studies could be found in the published medical literature after the drugs were approved? 37 of the positive studies were published, and only 3 of those with negative findings.
In 2010, researchers identified all the published trials for five major classes of drugs, and then measured two key features: Were they positive, and were they funded by industry? Out of a total of 500 trials, 85 percent of the industry-funded studies were positive, compared to less than 50 percent of independent-funded trials.
Former drug company researcher Glenn Begley looked at 53 papers in the world’s top journals, and found that he and a team of scientists could NOT replicate 47 of the 53 published studies — all of which were considered important and valuable for the future of cancer treatments.
In 2007, researchers identified all published trials of cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins. During this study of 192 trials, the researchers found that industry-funded studies were 20 times more likely to favor the test drug, compared to those with independent funding.
One study revealed that missing or skewed studies in medical journals helped create the impression that 94 percent of antidepressant trials had produced positive results as published in the New England Journal of Medicine. In reality, all the studies together (published and unpublished) showed just 51 percent positive results.
According to a 2011 study in the Journal of Medical Ethics, nearly 32 percent of retracted papers were not noted as having been retracted by the journal in question, leaving medical professionals completely in the dark about the inaccuracies in the studies they accept as current, up to date, and factual.
Retraction rates have increased tenfold in the past decade, and a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences demonstrates that two-thirds of all retractions follow from scientific misconduct: fraud, duplicate publication and plagiarism.
How Publication Bias Affects Your Doctors Medical Decisions (And Your Health)
It’s important to realize that all research is NOT published. And once you realize that the majority of research funding comes from for-profit drug companies, it should come as no surprise that drug studies funded by a pharmaceutical company that reaches a negative conclusion will rarely ever see the light of day.
What this means is that even if you scour the medical literature to determine what the consensus is on any given medical topic (vaccines are a great example), what you’ll find is an overwhelming preponderance of data in favor of a specific drug that in no way, shape or form reflects the reality of the scientific investigation that went into that drug. With so much data missing in action, what does the claim “scientifically proven” really amount to? It certainly cannot be construed as a guarantee of safety or effectiveness.
While your doctor may be operating in good faith, it does not change the fact that the source of their information is largely biased and in some cases downright deceitful. And even if your doctor is educating himself beyond reading the article abstracts, the sobering reality is that over 60 percent of related studies for pharmaceuticals remain unpublished on average about five years AFTER the FDA approves the drugs for market. This means that physicians are often prescribing drugs without full knowledge of how well the treatments work – up to and including any potential risks, side effects or long term health concerns.
Soooo… Can Medical Journals (and Your Doctor) Be Trusted??
We would all like to think of the scientific process as being objective, rigorous, and even ruthless in separating out what is true from what is false. But the fact is, it’s easy to manipulate results, especially when there is big money involved.
While your doctor may be operating in good faith and to the best of his ability (and knowledge), he or she is most likely gleaning information where there is a blatant intellectual conflict of interest that pressures researchers to find whatever it is that is most likely to get them funded.
It is well established that researchers are frequently manipulating data analyses and chasing career-advancing findings rather than good science. In many instances researchers are even using the peer-review process – in which journals ask researchers to help decide which studies to publish – to suppress opposing views. Just one glimpse at the vaccine industry proves this beyond a doubt, with vaccine manufacturing giants like Merck and GlaxoSmithKline facing lawsuits over research fraud and intimidation tactics toward independent vaccine researchers.
So can medical journals be trusted? In my personal opinion, if you are using medical journals as your sole source of medical news and information – then no, they cannot.
Can your doctor be trusted? Well, that depends on where your doctor is getting all of his or her medical news and information from! If it’s from medical journals, (especially if your doctor displays a faith like trust in medical journals) then see my answer above.
It’s vitally important to talk to your doctor and see where they get their information from. If they prescribe a drug or a treatment, do your own research into the matter. If any questions or concerns arise, bring them (along with the accompanying independent, unbiased studies) to your doctor’s attention.
If they act condescending or uninterested in looking at the BIG picture or the full body of evidence for a given drug or treatment, I say find a new doctor!
So! Were you aware of the prevalence of publication bias in medical journals? Share below!