Skewing Data – and Suppressing the Facts

If you want to read a good article about bad science, I would suggest this one.

And for those who just want a summary… The article is about the extent of placebo prescription by medical professionals.

The study presents conclusions that 97% of doctors use “impure” placebos (e.g. antibacterial drugs for viral infections) and 12% “pure” placebos (sugar pills).

The criticisms are as follows:

  • That the study was part funded by the Southampton Complementary Medical Research Trust and seems to be skewed in favour of a high use result, suggesting partiality.
  1. The research counts how many medical professionals have ever used a placebo at any time during their career (i.e. this could be once) rather than how many would use them regularly.
  2. The category of “placebo” is extremely broad, including things such as elimination of alternative diagnoses through non-essential examination (which any good doctor should practice) and application of potentially effective but as-yet unproven treatments.
  3. Only the high cumulative figures were included in the press release. When the full set of data is examined, it contrarily shows that use of placebo is not particularly widespread. It looks as though its authors were prioritising publicity over accuracy.
  • That the quality of journalism (churnalism) reporting these facts was incredibly poor.
  1. The content of the press release was regurgitated, but no additional data included, suggesting journalists had not read the original study.
  2. Details of the study’s funders is tactfully omitted.

This is my summary of the critical article – I haven’t read the original research either, but I am very familiar with findingĀ  this kind of result when I do. …For more details, you had better read the article yourself.


About RowenaFW

I am a Fish. But you wouldn't know it just from looking at me.
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