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A New Low in Drug Research: 21 Fabricated Studies

fabricated drug studiesScott S. Reuben, a prominent Massachusetts anesthesiologist, allegedly fabricated 21 medical studies that claimed to show benefits from painkillers like Vioxx and Celebrex.

Baystate Medical Center said Reuben had faked data used in the studies, which were published in several anesthesiology journals between 1996 and 2008. The hospital has asked the medical journals to retract the studies. The studies reported favorable results from the use of painkillers Bextra and Vioxx -- both since withdrawn -- as well as Celebrex and Lyrica. Dr. Reuben's research work also claimed positive findings for the antidepressant Effexor XR as a pain killer.

The retractions, first reported in Anesthesiology News, have caused anesthesiologists to reconsider the use of certain practices adopted as a result of Dr. Reuben's research. His work was considered important in encouraging doctors to combine the use of painkillers like Celebrex and Lyrica for patients undergoing common procedures such as knee and hip replacements.
Dr. Mercola's Comments:
I’ve been exposing the conflicts of interest and deceit surrounding drug research since I started this Web site more than a decade ago. In that time I’ve learned quite a bit of disturbing information about how far drug companies and their researchers are willing to bend the rules to get the results they’re after.

But this example by Dr. Scott Reuben really takes the cake.

Here was a well-respected, prominent anesthesiologist, former chief of acute pain of the Baystate Medical Center, Springfield, Mass. and a former professor at Tufts University's medical school. And he allegedly fabricated the data for 21 studies!  

He just simply made the results all up as if it was some fantasy video game he was playing.

Aside from saying, "Dr. Reuben deeply regrets that this happened," the doctor’s attorney had little in way of explanation except to say that a peer review committee “justly and fairly considered” a set of “extenuating circumstances.”

It will be interesting to hear if those “extenuating circumstances” are ever revealed, but I doubt they could ever offer an explanation for faking 21 research studies.

It seems nearly every day more evidence emerges to further drain the credibility of drug research studies.

If the Results Don’t Fit, Bury Them!

Just last month it came out that drugmaker AstraZeneca “buried” unfavorable studies on its antipsychotic drug Seroquel that showed it may cause diabetes and other health problems.

Across the board, drugmakers do an excellent job of publicizing the things they want you to know, while keeping very quiet about the rest. They’re also well known for funding their own studies so they can have a say in how the results turn out. This isn’t just my opinion; it’s well known that studies funded by industry or conducted by researchers with industry ties tend to favor corporate interests.

Further, industry-sponsored studies tend to be the ones more likely to be published in medical journals. In fact, a Cochrane Collaboration review and analysis of published flu vaccine studies found that flu vaccine studies sponsored by industry are treated more favorably by medical journals even when the studies are of poor quality -- which begs the question, who is responsible for deciding what gets published in the first place?

How do Research Studies Make it Into Medical Journals?

Dr. Reuben succeeded in getting numerous studies published, despite the fact that the data from 21 studies was imaginary. And those studies may have continued to be accepted as fact and swaying the prescribing habits of doctors, had a routine audit not raised a few red flags. It was only due to these flagged discrepancies in Dr. Reuben’s work that a larger investigation was later launched.

So how did those false studies, or any studies for that matter, become worthy of being published?

A very good question, and one I’d like the answer to as well, because it’s almost impossible to find out what happens in the vetting process as peer reviewers are unpaid, anonymous and unaccountable. And although the system is based on the best of intentions, it lacks consistent standards and the expertise of the reviewers can vary widely from journal to journal.

This leaves the field wide open to reviewers to base their decisions on their own prejudices. And more often than not, there is a distinct tendency to let flawed papers through if their conclusion is favorable for vaccines or other drugs.

Back in 2005, Dr. John Ioannidis, an epidemiologist at Ioannina School of Medicine, Greece, showed that there is less than a 50 percent chance that the results of any randomly chosen scientific paper will be true.

Dr. Ioannidis did it again just last year, showing that much of scientific research being published is highly questionable. According to his study:

“Simulations show that for most study designs and settings, it is more likely for a research claim to be false than true.”

He noted problems with experimental and statistical methods as the main culprits, including factors such as small sample sizes, poor study design, researcher bias and selective reporting. The newer study, meanwhile, suggests that economic conditions, such as oligopolies, artificial scarcities and the winner’s curse, are largely to blame for incorrect research.

Because of the way this system runs, journals may be more likely to publish studies that show dramatic results, positive results, or results from “hot” competitive fields. None of this, of course, has anything to do with scientific merit or accuracy, and perhaps that’s why 21 of Dr. Reuben’s fake studies made it into medical journals.

Keeping an Eye Out for Yourself

When evaluating health news, it is wise to be cautious -- even if it’s published in a scientific journal. You must come to the realization that YOU are responsible for your, and your family’s, health -- not me, not your doctor, and certainly not any researchers.

Be aware, too, that your doctor may be swayed by these very same dubious studies, and as a result encourage you to take a certain drug or vaccine. Again, do not simply take their word for it.

A helpful strategy, although not always easy to do, is to see who funded the study. If it is a drug company and the study claims good results with one of their drugs, one should be highly skeptical that something fishy might be going on and not adopt the conclusions as valid until it is confirmed by a more reliable source.

Remember, medicine is a business, and so are the journals publishing the science used as the basis for medicine. This means you need to view any and all health recommendations with an air of skepticism, as you would when evaluating the claims for a new car.

+ Sources and References