The Two Most Dangerous Words in Medicine are “Studies Show.”

Jerry Addler has published his New Year’s resolution in Newsweek,

I will not report on any amazing new treatments for anything, unless they were tested in large, randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical trials published in high-quality peer-reviewed medical journals. If that means not telling NEWSWEEK’s readers about, say, a new magnetized-water cure for osteoporosis, cancer and autism—well, there are infomercials to fill that gap. The risk that I might overlook the next Lipitor is outweighed by the danger of hyping the next laetrile, the discredited 1970s-era miracle cancer drug made from apricot pits that failed to cure Steve McQueen.

Now if only all journalists kept on smoking and drinking and took up this resolution instead of a futile gesture to cut down on vices, then we may all be a little healthier.

Addler was converted by a new book (not yet in the UK) by R. Barker Bausell, a biostatistician at the University of Maryland, called Snake Oil Science: The Truth about Complementary and Alternative Medicine. (Oxford University Press Inc, USA).

He wrote the book to,

educate journalists and the public that “just because someone with a Ph.D. or M.D. performs a clinical trial doesn’t mean that [it] possesses any credibility whatsoever … The vast majority are worse than worthless.”

The problem, he says is that,

researchers, even those without a direct financial stake in the outcome of a trial, often have a psychological investment in what they’re testing. Their papers get published because the editors of journals in fields like homeopathy start from the premise that the whole thing isn’t a preposterous hoax, as Bausell and most mainstream doctors believe. If someone really does cure cancer—whether a drug company researcher or a Tibetan herbalist—The New England Journal of Medicine or The Journal of the American Medical Association will be happy to publish the news.

This is good news. I wish all UK Health journalists would put this new book at the top of their reading list for 2008. We just are sick to death of seeing press releases on research being presented as the next big break through. We are fed up with unreferenced news stories. And most of all, we are fed up with uncritical reporting of fashionable health nonsense just becuse its fits in with a journalists preconceived ideas about what ought to be true about the world.
PS – Note how the homeopaths have started a fightback against this article in the comments section of Addler’s post. Ha Ha Ha.

3 Comments on The Two Most Dangerous Words in Medicine are “Studies Show.”

  1. Whoa, LCN. From those comments to Addler’s post:
    “The peer-reviewed journal Similia, which I edit, makes its editorial decisions based on just one premise: that the substance capable of removing the entirety of a patient’s illness is that substance that can most closely reproduce the patient’s symptoms in the healthy. That premise remains almost undisputed in modern medicine.
    Yours sincerely,
    John Harvey
    Editor, Similia”

    These people really do live in another universe.
    I’ll be putting that book on my wishlist.

  2. from

    It is well known that Steve did suffer from Mesothelioma, but it was not the cause of his death! On Nov. 4, 1980, he checked into the Santa Rosa Clinic in Juarez, Mexico. On Nov. 6, he underwent surgery for the removal of an abdominal tumor, which when removed, weighed in at five pounds!

    The surgeon was Dr. Cesar Santos Vargas, and the operation was a success. However, Steve suffered a heart attack while in the operating room. Sixteen hours later, he suffered a second and massive heart attack while undergoing recovery. Steve McQueen died at 3:50 a.m. on Nov. 7, 1980. For the record, the official cause of his death was a massive heart attack and not Mesothelioma.

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