Day By Day

Thursday, January 19, 2006

More Scientific Fraud

NYT reports:

A large study concluding that anti-inflammatory drugs reduce the risk of oral cancer was based on fabricated data, according to The Lancet, the prominent British medical journal that published the report last year.

The principal author was Jon Sudbo, a cancer researcher at the Norwegian Radium Hospital in Oslo. He had four co-authors at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and another at Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York.

In the Lancet paper, Dr. Sudbo said he received financing from the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md. The news agency Agence France-Presse said the amount was $10.5 million.

A spokeswoman for the institute said yesterday that she could not confirm it had provided the financing. She noted that $10 million was a minute slice of the agency's budget.

Officials at the Norwegian Radium Hospital told The Lancet they had information that the data was manipulated....

Read the whole thing here.

The corruption of the international scientific community by politics, corporate interests, and by activist groups is one of the great scandals of our times -- one that should give pause to anyone who seeks to base public policy on "scientific" authority.


The New York Times publishes an important article on this subject by David Dobbs. It reads in part:

Many of us consider science the most reliable, accountable way of explaining how the world works. We trust it. Should we? John Ioannidis, an epidemiologist, recently concluded that most articles published by biomedical journals are flat-out wrong. The sources of error, he found, are numerous: the small size of many studies, for instance, often leads to mistakes, as does the fact that emerging disciplines, which lately abound, may employ standards and methods that are still evolving. Finally, there is bias, which Ioannidis says he believes to be ubiquitous. Bias can take the form of a broadly held but dubious assumption, a partisan position in a longstanding debate (e.g., whether depression is mostly biological or environmental) or (especially slippery) a belief in a hypothesis that can blind a scientist to evidence contradicting it. These factors, Ioannidis argues, weigh especially heavily these days and together make it less than likely that any given published finding is true. [emphasis mine]

The problem is the peer review system:
Some critics, including some journal editors, argue that it would help to open up the typically closed peer-review system, in which anonymous scientists review a submitted paper and suggest revisions. Developed after World War II, closed peer review was meant to ensure candid evaluations and elevate merit over personal connections. But its anonymity allows reviewers to do sloppy work, steal ideas or delay competitors' publication by asking for elaborate revisions (it happens) without fearing exposure. And it catches error and fraud no better than good editors do. "The evidence against peer review keeps getting stronger," says Richard Smith, former editor of the British Medical Journal, "while the evidence on the upside is weak." Yet peer review has become a sacred cow, largely because passing peer review confers great prestige - and often tenure.
He suggests as a corrective a system of open review by identifiable reviewers. This might in some ways alleviate the problem, but the basic point is that there is a real crisis of scientific authority -- one that is unlikely to be corrected anytime soon.

Read the article here.

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