Medical research needs an independent modeling panel
I am outraged this morning.
I spent yesterday morning writing up David Madigan’s lecture to us in the Columbia Data Science class, and I can hardly handle what he explained to us: the entire field of epidemiological research is ad hoc.
This means that people are taking medication or undergoing treatments that may do they harm and probably cost too much because the researchers’ methods are careless and random.
Of course, sometimes this is intentional manipulation (see my previous post on Vioxx, also from an eye-opening lecture by Madigan). But for the most part it’s not. More likely it’s mostly caused by the human weakness for believing in something because it’s standard practice.
In some sense we knew this already. How many times have we read something about what to do for our health, and then a few years later read the opposite? That’s a bad sign.
And although the ethics are the main thing here, the money is a huge issue. It required $25 million dollars for Madigan and his colleagues to implement the study on how good our current methods are at detecting things we already know. Turns out they are not good at this – even the best methods, which we have no reason to believe are being used, are only okay.
Okay, $25 million dollars is a lot, but then again there are literally billions of dollars being put into the medical trials and research as a whole, so you might think that the “due diligence” of such a large industry would naturally get funded regularly with such sums.
But you’d be wrong. Because there’s no due diligence for this industry, not in a real sense. There’s the FDA, but they are simply not up to the task.
One article I linked to yesterday from the Stanford Alumni Magazine, which talked about the work of John Ioannidis (I blogged about his work here called “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False“), summed the situation up perfectly (emphasis mine):
When it comes to the public’s exposure to biomedical research findings, another frustration for Ioannidis is that “there is nobody whose job it is to frame this correctly.” Journalists pursue stories about cures and progress—or scandals—but they aren’t likely to diligently explain the fine points of clinical trial bias and why a first splashy result may not hold up. Ioannidis believes that mistakes and tough going are at the essence of science. “In science we always start with the possibility that we can be wrong. If we don’t start there, we are just dogmatizing.”
It’s all about conflict of interest, people. The researchers don’t want their methods examined, the pharmaceutical companies are happy to have various ways to prove a new drug “effective”, and the FDA is clueless.
Another reason for an AMS panel to investigate public math models. If this isn’t in the public’s interest I don’t know what is.