Saturday, July 7, 2012

Junk Science

Most of what catches your attention on the news amounts to junk science. Junk science is often observational studies. When flawed observational studies show up in the news they worry patients and doctors and cause unnecessary harm. 

Too often, even doctors cannot tell a good study from a flawed one. And sometimes patients, without contacting their doctor, will stop their medicine because of these scary junk science reports.

From Lantus insulin causing cancer to calcium channel blockers causing heart attacks , to alar on apples causing cancer, all these junk science scares have been proven wrong. 
Some of the problems with these studies related to confounders. I discussed confounders in a previous post on diet beverages.

An excellent recent article in the Wall Street Journal nicely states the problems with the every increasing number of these, often junky, observational studies. Observational studies do not provide the high quality data like that from randomized controlled clinical trials. But they are observational studies are easier and cheaper to do.

Of course, not all observational studies are the same. Some are better than others.

Some flawed observational studies had suggested Actos might increase the risk of bladder cancer. We now have updated findings of a good quality cohort study, 
This is the best study on the question of Actos and bladder cancer.

In this study, over 84,000 patients were followed over 8 years. And happily, no statistically significant difference in bladder cancer was seen in the Actos users as compared to those who had diabetes but had not been on Actos.  

Too often the desire to attract readers or viewers takes the place of thoughtful responsible reporting. And some health or science reporters appear severely deficient in the ability to critically think.

My advice is: to remain skeptical, think again and talk to your doctor before believing the medical reports you read or hear.

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