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We’ve often said here that when an e-patient wants to be responsible for treatment decisions, it’s essential to know how to evaluate the research about each option. A common mistake is to trust, blindly, news reports about a treatment, or even to trust, blindly, the journal articles that our clinicians read.

Ben Goldacre (Twitter @BenGoldacre) is the physician author of the 2009 book Bad Science. (2009?? Why have I not heard about this book??) At TEDGlobal 2011 he gave this 14 minute talk, “Battling Bad Science,” explaining in a most entertaining way a few of the most pernicious and pervasive ways we are misled – either by inept reporting or, sometimes, by outright scientific corruption for commercial purposes. Enjoy:

Early on, he covers one of the most important points:

“Real science is all about critically appraising the evidence for somebody else’s position.”

Or, as our Doc John Grohol said in July, “Science isn’t science until it’s replicated by other, independent researchers with other subjects. That is Science 101.”

That’s why I, who learned that in 7th grade, was shocked this summer to learn that most studies in scientific journals are never replicated by other researchers! (See the writings cited in this post.)

Lessons for e-patients:

  • Be an empowered, engaged partner with your clinician in treatment decisions. You don’t have to do anything, of course, so what you decide to do is your responsibility.
  • Don’t believe everything you read – or your doctor reads. To educate yourself about evaluating health articles, subscribe to Health News Review (Twitter @HealthNewsRevu), and review our series on Understanding Statistics and Research Issues.
  • Ask questions about the evidence for a recommended treatment – at least in cases where the treatment isn’t going well. Ask if there are alternatives.
  • If your clinicians don’t like questions, think about finding one who does. “Look, who’s got the medical degree here?” is a giant red flag: a physician who doesn’t acknowledge uncertainty is out of touch with reality, and there’s an irony about someone being scientifically arrogant if they don’t know science’s practical limits.

Above all, be aware that there’s blatant corruption out there, as Goldacre describes. For another example, see our 2009 post Negative Data on Seroquel Suppressed by Drug’s Maker, especially the comments, with links to many other valuable resources.

You and your doctor may have been lied to, and any honest scientist acknowledges the uncertainty – until, as Doc John said, others have produced the same result independently.


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