Tuesday, October 26, 2010

You Can't Believe ANYTHING !

The Atlantic, a respected mainstream literary magazine, says you can't believe anything! (November 2010 issue)

They are not talking about political adverts, but about peer-reviewed MEDICAL RESEARCH as well as Internet sites. On this Blog we've recently discussed Elite Opposition to Online Information and compared it to peer-reviewed journals and books, so these items caught my eye.

Truth Lies Here by Michael Hirschorn, is a hit piece against right-leaning web sites. It starts with the alleged efforts of the "Digg Patriots" to drive down the readership of left-leaning web items by coordinated use of the Digg "bury" option. The reader is lead to believe that left-leaning groups have not use similar tactics. Digg, a website that allows users to recommend web items has since discontinued the "bury" option so the point is moot in any case. Hirschorn goes on to misreport the Sherrod incident (which I discussed here) as well as the Acorn pimp and prostitute caper. He claims the videos were "heavily doctored" when in fact they were simply edited.

The Acorn sting video speaks for itself. According to the NY Times "...two conservative activists pretending to be a pimp and a prostitute used a hidden camera and recorded Acorn employees advising them on how to conceal the source of illegal income and manage 14-year-old Salvadoran prostitutes in the country illegally: 'Train them to keep their mouth shut.'" Perhaps the activists had to visit several Acorn sites before they got that damning video, but it is clear at least one Acorn worker had no problem helping a pimp exploit underage illegal female immigrants. In the Sherrod case the editing was misleading, but the real story was how the Agriculture Department and the NAACP "bit" and fired and condemned Sherrod, despite the fact she had informed her superiors of the true situation and the NAACP had the complete video that proved Sherrod was not a racist but was reporting on a redemptive moment in her career.

Hirschorn blasts the usual suspect, Sarah Palin, for using Twitter shorthand, including "Ground Zero mosque" (it is a cultural center and two blocks away).

Lies, Damned Lies, and Medical Science, by David Freedman, is a longer and much more serious piece that calls into question nearly all medical research. Freedman begins with the fact that Albanian immigrants to Greece have their "perfectly healthy" appendixes removed at a rate three times higher than Greeks, apparently because surgery residents are over-eager to rack up scalpel time. The researchers who uncovered the situation had trouble getting their study published, which led them to do some further investigations of medical research journals.

Many peer-reviewed medical findings are later refuted. This fact may be interpreted in two ways: 1) The system is working and correcting itself, or 2) Why are so many medical studies wrong in the first place?

Well, according to the researcher Freedman interviewed, the problem is the need for researchers to get grants and publish, and that may be accomplished only by getting new and surprising results. This leads them to come up with new theories and then construct research projects that are biased to prove those theories. Even in apparently properly set up randomized trials, results are exaggerated. For example, of 49 most widely used cited research articles over the past 13 years, 34 were retested and 41% of those were shown to be wrong or exaggerated! "Drug studies have the added corruptive force of financial conflict of interest." They hardly ever study the effect of not prescribing any medication. And, when it comes to nutritional studies, "ignore them all" is the best advice! Clearly, this information should be taken into account as we consider government involvement in health care and end-of-life issues, as I discussed here.

But medical research is not especially fact-free, "a remarkably consistent paucity of strong evidence in published economics studies made it unlikely that any of them were right."
Ira Glickstein


Deardra MacDonald said...

Thanks Ira on your topic, It is “obvious” that the Meta-Research Community question whether errors and blatant miscalculations should be broadcasted to the general public. What makes broadcasting this situation so grave and troublesome for the medical community is that they are now struggling to keep patients from turning to alternative medical treatment, homeopathy, using the Internet in diagnosing themselves, second opinion, etc. It is easy to understand why researchers, as well as doctors, are definitely not motivated to give anymore reasons for patients to be skeptical of what they have done or presently doing. Needless to say the public cynicism is already here, it is happening! I went to a doctor and was diagnosed with a sinus problem, which required an operation. (?) Well, needless to say again, I went to the Internet and I got several more opinions from the medical profession, which concluded that I had an allergy! No surgery needed.
Deardra MacDonald

Ira Glickstein said...

IMHO, the "authorities" in any field REALLY believe that they are the experts - and, NORMALLY THEY ARE.

The problem is that, being human, even "authorities" sometimes make mistakes. Also, as science and technology advance, the real truth may change, but the "authorities" may be wedded to the old, established "truth" and therefore be too conservative to change their opinions.

Another fact of medical care is that sick people often get better on their own, using the body's natural healing mechanisms. If they happen to be taking drug "A" when they recover, they and their doctors will believe they were cured -and research statistics will reflect- by that drug. Same if they were taking drug "B". On the other hand, if they were taking no drug, or if they changed their eating habits, or increased their exercise, or anything else not sponsored by some drug company, that natural alternative would NOT get credit.

The "authorities" are correct that "alternative medicine" scams could lead the uninformed public to avoid going to a qualified doctor when standard medical care could have cure them. That is a real danger of broadcasting the failures of medical research to the public, but, given the INternet, I think it is inevitable.

Ira Glickstein

dwinmac said...

Call it mistakes, call it misinformation, call it lies, in the end, I believe, it all boils down to money. In a competitive society that worships money the way we do in the U.S. it should not be a surprise that a lot of the research is "slanted" toward a particular way of thinking. With me it goes as far back as the 50s when the tobacco companies were touting the goodness and safety of smoking cigarettes. Who remembers the TV ads "More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette" and the refreshing outdoor scenes associated with mentholated Salem cigarettes. I do believe it has gotten worse over the last 20 years or so due to the internet and its inherent anonymity and perhaps big money's corporate lawyers as well as the corporate lobbyist pushing state and federal politicians to deregulate and limit liability.

The following link to an article in the Syracuse Post Standard talks about doctors just in Central New York who are paid by the drug companies to push their medications.

Additional recent examples of misinformation include the mortgage brokers giving mortgages to people who obviously could not afford them, the Wall Street mortgage derivatives, and the bad AAA ratings by S&P, Moody and Fitch. How about Goldman Sachs selling securities to a customer and then selling them short for themselves knowing it was going to decrease in value.

So, in my mind, you are taking a big risk accepting categorically anything that you read or hear (including this reply) unless you are very familiar with the author. Regardless of your political views you should follow very closely one of Ronald Reagan's favorite phrases "Trust but Verify" before believing anything you read or hear from strangers.

Ira Glickstein said...

Thanks "dwinmac" for your Comment.

Perhaps I am getting old but I remember the commercial as claiming: "Nine out of ten doctors who tried Camels ....

.... preferred women!" :^)

And, the good thing about cancer is ....

.... cancer cures smoking.

Yes, it is the money, but I do not believe it was ever better than now. True, we are subjectd to more commercials and corporate-sponsored studies and so on, due to all the channels of electronic media -but- we also have a torrent of counter information that is non-corporate information streaming over the very same media. In the past it was almost impossible for a common person to speak to the public if the media did not want to hear his or her message. Nowadays, anybody can post to the Internet and potentially have his or her writings read by anyone in the world.

As for the mortgage brokers who gave mortgages to questionable borrowers, we cannot excuse the government that, through legislation and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, quasi-governmental organizations, virtually required the banks to be irresponsible (or risk legal jeopardy for "red lining" and other supposedly discriminatory policies).

Finally, as a big fan of Ronald Reagan, I echo your quote from him, "Trust but verify".

Ira Glickstein

PS: If you would like to become an authorized Author on this Blog and have your comments appear instantly, please send me an email to ira@techie.com and I will have Google send you an invite. advTHANKSance