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Drug trials

Negative results of drug trials routinely suppressed

Friday, December 01, 2006 by: Jessica Fraser
Tags: drug trials, medical journals, medical drug trials


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(NewsTarget) Researchers rarely publish negative research results in mainstream medical journals, and even purposely suppress results that fail to prove links between diseases and drugs or genes, according to the Wall Street Journal's Sharon Begley.

To combat scientists' reluctance to publish negative results, new medical journals that are solely dedicated to the publication of negative study results are gaining popularity, with more like-minded journals constantly joining the ranks.

A 1999 analysis of the success of scientific studies in certain fields found that some areas of research regularly enjoy success more than 90 percent of the time, which is improbable, according to Lee Sigelman of George Washington University.

"Publication bias" has led to inaccurate public perceptions of certain health issues. For example, suppression of negative study results in the 1990s led the public to believe that oral contraceptives are linked to an increase in risk of cervical cancer, but a 2000 analysis of the data found that studies finding no link between the drugs and the disease were rarely published, suggesting a possible bogus connection.

"You hear stories about negative studies getting stuck in a file drawer, but rigorous analyses also support the suspicion that journals are biased in favor of positive studies," said David Lehrer of the University of Helsinki, who recently started the new Journal of Spurious Correlations.

According to Bjorn Olsen of Harvard Medical School, who helped found the Journal of Negative Results in Biomedicine, suppressing negative trial results wastes time and money for other researchers. Some scientists likely decline to publish negative results in order to keep competing scientists working on similar incorrect theories, wasting money and time.

Olsen's journal is strictly dedicated to publishing studies that dispute reported links between genetics and disease. The publication has recently featured studies questioning the link between the Sod1 gene and Lou Gehrig's disease, the MTHFR gene and Huntington's disease and the PINK-1 gene and late-onset Parkinson's disease.

Hopefully, Olsen said, making such information available will help researchers better focus their efforts, as well as aid the public in deciphering what to believe from medical studies, and what to question.

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