For those of you who’ve read Bad Pharma by Ben Goldacre (or spent time with me after a few drinks), you’ll be aware that publication bias is a huge problem in medical literature. For those who’ve not had the pleasure of being harangued by me after one too many margaritas, here’s a TED talk by Dr Goldcare explaining why publication bias is such a problem.
If you haven’t bothered to click because you’re too lazy, here’s a brief run down of the main points:
- Studies saying things don’t work aren’t published because no one cares when something doesn’t happen
- Watch the video
- Studies that replicate previously positive data and find negative data (i.e. we thought this helped heart attacks, turned out it doesn’t, even worse it actively kills people) aren’t published because journals don’t publish replications
- Seriously, watch the video, Dr Goldacre is much more entertaining than I am
- Because stuff isn’t published, doctors don’t know which drugs are dangerous and patients until someone notices that lots of people on drug X are dying.
- You still haven’t watched the video have you?
- This isn’t a rare phenomenon, it is a systematic flaw in every field of medicine. Half of all trials that are started vanish; the studies that don’t are much more likely to have positive findings
You don’t have to have the wisdom of Dumbledore to figure out that giving out medications without really knowing how safe they are is a bad idea. Hence, the AllTrials campaign was started, with the singular aim of having the results of all medical trials on humans available to view so doctors and other healthcare professionals can figure out exactly which drugs are best. The campaign petition has been signed by over 80, 000 people. If you’re not one of them, then sign up here. It’s also been signed by over 500 organisations, including such minnows as NICE, the Royal Society of Medicine and the BMA. Disappointingly, neither the University of Sheffield, Sheffield Medical School, Sheffield Students Union or the NUS have signed up so it looks like I’ll be sending a couple of emails out tonight. I would be less upset except Hull-York Medical School have signed up and it’s really depressing to be worse than them at something.
Happily, the fact the NUS has focused it’s energy in deciding not to condemn ISIS, rather than on All Trials won’t be stopping the campaign as a rather big beast has waded in to help. In fact, probably the biggest beast of all. The World Heath Organisation (WHO) have released a statement saying:
- results from clinical trials should be publicly reported within 12 months of the trial’s end,
- results from previously unpublished trials to be made publicly available, and
- organisations and governments should implement measures to achieve this
Unfortunately the WHO has no legislative power to make any of these things happen. As much as nutters would like you to think the WHO is putting chemtrails in the sky to make you take vaccines that give you autism, the WHO simply can’t make international or national change on this scale. The WHO statement is nothing without action from people like me and you – and we’re in a fairly good position to do that. As you may have heard, we’re having an election in less-than-a-few weeks, and political candidates have never been in a better position to be harassed over this than now. On this note:
- Email, tweet, shout at your constituency candidates in the street. Get them aware of the issue and ask them to sign the petition on the AllTrials website. Find contact details for every candidate here. (NB: Within one hour of this post going up, Joe Otten, the local Lib Dem candidate, replied to say he’d signed up to All Trials. Proof that obnoxious tweeting pays off)
- Attend a hustings and raise this issue, your candidates might not even be aware it’s a problem. Even if you vote for the eventual loser, you can guarantee the elected MP will have heard about AllTrials and might even be persuaded to dedicated parliamentary time to it in the future. Find hustings in your area here.
- Don’t forget about local councils. They might not be able to do much about an international system failure (hell, they probably can’t even run a bus system in all likelihood) but the local parties are the lifeblood of the national ones. Strong support on a local level translates well to strong support at a national level.
- And finally, if you’re a student – get in touch with your Student’s Union and your university. Having seen quite how science illiterate most student politicians are, it’d be brilliant to see the NUS actually dedicating some time to a serious scientific issue.
I would attach links to petitions and such but the Government site is down on account of the election, and for all it’s talk of direct democracy the NUS site doesn’t seem to have a facility to make one. Ah well, I’ll update this bit once I get anywhere.
Update 1: Joe Otten (Lib Dem), Jilian Creasy (Green), Andy Halsall (Pirate), Thom Brown (Above and Beyond) and Dominic Cook (UKIP), all parliamentary candidates in Sheffield Central, have signed up to the campaign.