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How Scientific Is Modern Medicine Really?

range of medicinesJohn Ioannidis is one of the world's most important experts on the credibility of medical research. He and his team of researchers have repeatedly shown that many of the conclusions biomedical researchers arrive at in their published studies are exaggerated or flat-out wrong.

However, these studies are what doctors use to prescribe drugs or recommend surgery. Ioannidis asserts that as much as 90 percent of the published medical information relied on by doctors is flawed or incorrect.

The Atlantic reports:

"His work has been widely accepted by the medical community ... Yet for all his influence, he worries that the field of medical research is so pervasively flawed, and so riddled with conflicts of interest, that it might be chronically resistant to change -- or even to publicly admitting that there's a problem."

Further, it is commonly believed that modern medical treatments, including drugs, are "scientifically proven." In reality, this is a "profitable marketing ruse," according to a Huffington Post article by Dana Ullman. He reports:

"The British Medical Journal's "Clinical Evidence" analyzed common medical treatments to evaluate which are supported by sufficient reliable evidence (BMJ, 2007). They reviewed approximately 2,500 treatments and found:


  • 13 percent were found to be beneficial
  • 23 percent were likely to be beneficial
  • Eight percent were as likely to be harmful as beneficial
  • Six percent were unlikely to be beneficial
  • Four percent were likely to be harmful or ineffective.
  • 46 percent were unknown whether they were efficacious or harmful"
Dr. Mercola's Comments:

The modern medical system prides itself on being "scientifically proven." Those little blue pills, or pink ones, or red ones are allegedly scientifically proven to make you fall asleep, relieve your pain, feel less hungry, or lower your blood pressure, they claim.

And they very well may have gone through a multi-million-dollar, controlled study -- sometimes more than one. But what is typically removed from public view is the massive conflict of interest that is involved, which invariably invalidates the study.

Is Medicine Really Based on Science?

That many natural therapies are not "scientifically proven" is often used to unfairly suggest they are not safe or effective. However, were you aware that the vast majority, over 85 percent, of therapies currently recommended by conventional medicine have never been formally proven either?

I recently discussed this topic at length with Dana Ullman, MPH, who is widely recognized as a prominent spokesperson for homeopathic medicine. Dana has a phenomenal column in the Huffington Post, and as he wrote:

"Doctors today commonly assert that they practice "scientific medicine," and patients think that the medical treatments they receive are "scientifically proven." However, this ideal is a dream, not reality, and a clever and profitable marketing ruse, not fact."

Now please understand that I have enormous respect for the scientific method, and I think when it is done properly it can clearly provide us with profound and valid truths that can guide and direct our understanding of nature and help us improve our health.

The primary challenge however is confirm that study is free of any conflict of interest that would pervert the results and the meaning of the analysis. Sadly, today that means far more research into the author of the study, who funded it and the motivations as to why it was initially designed.

Medical Journal Results are Often Not What They Seem

In my recent interview with Dr. Beatrice Golomb, MD, PhD, who is a rare commodity in the research world because she has integrity and has not sold out to the drug companies while most other researchers have, she explained a perfect example of the qualitative difference between the scientific facts amassed and the conclusions drawn.

"FDA analysts now have access to clinical trials whether or not they are published because of the clinical trial registries that some journals now require. (That doesn't actually require that those results then be published, but at least now there is opportunity for the FDA to get access to those studies, and sometimes to the evidence from the studies.)

So the FDA conducted an analysis of antidepressant drug trials and found that of 38 trials for which the evidence appeared favorable, 37 had been published. Whereas of 36 trials for which the evidence did not appear favorable toward antidepressant drugs, 22 were not published at all, and 11 were published in a way that misleadingly conveyed the outcome as though it was favorable.

So that research, the "published evidence," would be that over 90 percent of publications were favorable, relative to "truth" (at least as determined by the FDA analysts), which was about 50 percent.

… So that's an example of how the evidence we see can be dramatically different from the evidence that was procured, and there are actually a number of mechanisms that lead the evidence that was procured to already have disparities, generally favoring treatment benefits, relative to truth."

In other words, drugmakers do an excellent job of publicizing the findings they want you to know, while keeping very quiet about the rest.

As Ullman further explained:

"One of the things that have come out recently about some of the antidepressant research is that it's amazing how many studies had negative results but they are almost never published. Only the ones with the positive results are published and according to the FDA, drug companies only need to have two positive studies. 

They can have 18 negative studies but if you have just two positive studies, that's enough for acceptance. That's a serious problem."

Even the Most Widely Cited Data is Often Wrong

Dr. John Ioannidis, an epidemiologist at Ioannina School of Medicine, Greece is at the forefront of exposing the true credibility of medical research.

Back in 2005, he showed that there is less than a 50 percent chance that the results of any randomly chosen scientific paper will be true, and there is a seemingly endless number of variables that can affect the outcome. As Dr. Ioannidis wrote:

"In this framework, a research finding is less likely to be true when the studies conducted in a field are smaller; when effect sizes are smaller; when there is a greater number and lesser preselection of tested relationships;

…  where there is greater flexibility in designs, definitions, outcomes, and analytical modes; when there is greater financial and other interest and prejudice; and when more teams are involved in a scientific field in chase of statistical significance.

Simulations show that for most study designs and settings, it is more likely for a research claim to be false than true. Moreover, for many current scientific fields, claimed research findings may often be simply accurate measures of the prevailing bias."

Again in 2008, Dr. Ioannidis showed that much scientific research being published is highly questionable. According to that analysis, the studies most likely to be published are those that oversell dramatic or otherwise considered important results -- results that oftentimes turn out to be false later on.

Prestigious journals boast that they are very selective, turning down the vast majority of papers that are submitted to them. The assumption is that they therefore publish only the best scientific work.

But Dr. Ioannidis' study of nearly 50 papers in leading journals, which had been cited by more than 1,000 other scientists -- in other words, well-regarded research -- showed that within only a few years, almost a third of the papers had been refuted by other studies.

Making matters worse, the "hotter" the field, the greater the competition, and the more likely that published research in top journals could be wrong. As David H. Freedman wrote in The Atlantic:

" … [E]ven for medicine's most influential studies, the evidence sometimes remains surprisingly narrow. Of those 45 super-cited studies that Ioannidis focused on, 11 had never been retested. Perhaps worse, Ioannidis found that even when a research error is outed, it typically persists for years or even decades.

He looked at three prominent health studies from the 1980s and 1990s that were each later soundly refuted, and discovered that researchers continued to cite the original results as correct more often than as flawed—in one case for at least 12 years after the results were discredited."

Why it's So Difficult to Have Independent Studies …

Most of the major clinical trials involving drugs are funded, at least in part, by drug companies. For instance, based on Dr. Golomb's investigations into statin drug studies, ALL of the large randomized control trials of statin drugs have been funded by drug companies.

And when you consider that the pharmaceutical industry makes about half a trillion dollars annually, it's easy to see how statin drug research may have been clouded by conflict of interest.

So why is there not more independent research being done?

"It's very expensive to do those studies," Golomb explained. "The only other source of funding for reasonable sized studies is the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

We approached the NIH to conduct a study to see whether coenzyme Q10 might mitigate muscle side effects of statins, and we were told by NIH officers that they wouldn't even consider to do the study unless we ask the drug company to supply the statin …

So I contacted the NIH and I said, "I'm really trying to have a career free of drug company conflict of interest, would it be such a problem to have one study that doesn't have a drug company involved in it?"

And they said, somewhat reasonably, that their interest is in leveraging their funding and therefore, no, they would not consider an application unless we asked the drug company to supply the drug, which of course already set some level of conflict of interest."

Indeed, if a drug company voluntarily supplies the drug, they're naturally going to want to have a say in what results are published at the end.

What This Means for YOU …

It's unfortunate, but it's clear that the ostensibly "science-based" system we currently have has some fatal flaws.

It's virtually impossible to expect a publicly traded pharmaceutical company, which has a major obligation to its stockholders, to simultaneously have the patient's best interest -- YOUR best interest -- at heart. As Dr. Golomb says, the two are fundamentally incompatible. And yet this is THE source of the vast majority of the funding for all our "science-based evidence."

Ultimately, the take-home message here is that even if a drug or treatment is scientifically proven, it in no way guarantees it is safe or effective. Likewise, if an alternative treatment has not been published in a medical journal, it does not mean it is unsafe or ineffective.

For more information to help you understand how, and why, the "scientific method" has become so manipulated and willfully distorted by the drug industry, I encourage you to watch my video interview with Dr. Golomb.

One general principle I have found to be useful is that it is wise to be highly skeptical of any drug approach. Most all of them should be considered guilty of potentially harming or killing you unless there is monumental evidence to convince you otherwise.

Conversely you needn't be as cautious of a natural approach as the side effects and death rates are a mere fraction of a fraction of those seen with drugs and typically they are far less expensive. Most natural approaches do not involve supplements but rather addressing your diet and exercise first.

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