In a recent article in STANFORD magazine, I came across the work of J.A. Ioannidis who caused a metaphoric earthquake in the medical field. J.A. Ioannidis is a specialist in meta-research or the study of studies. He along with a team of researchers re-analyzed data from previous published medical studies and found that “it can be proven that most claimed research findings are false”. His pivotal work was published in 2005 in the Public Library of Science. You can download the paper from this link:
This is a significant problem since research findings are used to:
- market treatments for the chronically and critically ill
- dictate the diets we should feed our families to ensure good health
- provide guidance to medical experts on how they should treat patients.
Ioannidis’ team analysis found that published studies often lacked reproducible results. They also found that the studies themselves used ill-founded strategies for claiming positive research findings.
Bias is one of the key culprits for this problem. Biased findings occur in industry- sponsored studies. However, they also occur with funding from most other sources. The reasoning is that medical professionals feel pressure to publish in high impact journals to promote their career and secure future funding. To do this, they need to report high impact findings in their research. Negative or null research findings do not receive the same attention. The team estimates that 99% of the studies they reviewed yielded null results.
Due to the existing health and health care crisis in the U.S., Ioannidis’ work is recieving attention in the medical community. We hope this will lead to greater scrutiny of ongoing medical research and the claims that researchers make.