GUEST BLOG POST: Tony Lobl, my colleague in the UK, provides an insightful commentary on an article in the November issue of The Atlantic magazine.
“Are 90% of all medical studies wrong — including nearly half of those claimed to be the most reliable? That’s the provocative claim made by researcher John Ioannidis, profiled in this month’s issue of The Atlantic.” Thus spake Time magazine, in reviewing an article called “Lies, Damned Lies, and Medical Science“ published in The Atlantic, written by contributor David Freedman.
The Atlantic article highlights the work of Dr. John Ioannidis – a professor at Stanford School of Medicine – who, it says,”has spent his career challenging his peers by exposing their bad science.” He has proved that much of what medical researchers conclude in their studies is “misleading, exaggerated, or flat-out wrong”. Included in the article is the following:
‘This array [of the “astonishing” range of errors being committed] suggested a bigger, underlying dysfunction, and Ioannidis thought he knew what it was. “The studies were biased,” he says. “Sometimes they were overtly biased. Sometimes it was difficult to see the bias, but it was there.” Researchers headed into their studies wanting certain results—and, lo and behold, they were getting them. We think of the scientific process as being objective, rigorous, and even ruthless in separating out what is true from what we merely wish to be true, but in fact it’s easy to manipulate results, even unintentionally or unconsciously. “At every step in the process, there is room to distort results, a way to make a stronger claim or to select what is going to be concluded,” says Ioannidis. “There is an intellectual conflict of interest that pressures researchers to find whatever it is that is most likely to get them funded.”’
One can only gratefully respect these scientists for their integrity in open-mindedly entertaining an awareness of the issues they raise, and for their courage in speaking out about them. Highlighting unconscious and even conscious bias in medical research is clearly needed to improve the calibre of the work done, and to improve the products and services offered to those who choose Western medicine as their healthcare approach.
As a Christian Scientist who has spent the past thirty years choosing instead a purely spiritual approach to healthcare and healing, I would take this one step further. I would suggest there is a profounder bias that will eventually surface due to this kind of honest self-examination, and that is the underlying presumption of materially measurable cause and effect. While the placebo effect has highlighted the fact that there are mental factors inherent in treatment outcomes, the scientific method has not yet pinpointed the broader impact that thought has on every individual case. Does the individual thought of the patient, the thought of the carers, and general public thought about the expected coure of a disease play a part in every experience of illness? And, if so, could these mental factors play a much larger part in assessing the outcome of every experiment conducted in the name of medical research?
And, if so, is there access through spiritual means such as prayer to a source of thoughts which affords positive mental and physical health outcomes independent of purely matter-based starting points and conclusions?
Time will tell – and then maybe even Time magazine will tell! – whether an assumption of materiality is clouding scientific research into the cause and cure of disease, and whether there is a scientific spirituality that can throw light on to how to bring better thoughts to bear on the healing process.
Many thanks to Tony for bringing a fresh perspective to the concern about bias in health care today. Below is a recent PBS video that highlights one physician’s decision to maintain his Nevada practice free of bias and conflict of interest: