Wednesday, 27 January 2010

When good science goes bad

I was rummaging through PubMed (as you do) and it occurred to me that there's a problem.

1) The conclusions in the abstracts don't always tie-up with the data in the full studies.
2) There is no mention of who funded the studies.
3) There is no mention of any conflict of interest for the authors.

Some abstracts link to a free full study and some don't. This makes it difficult to know which studies have been "fixed" to achieve a desired outcome by tweaking the methodology. For example, here are some studies involving Hunter SJ, in chronological order:-

Elderly women in northern New England exhibit seasonal changes in bone mineral density and calciotropic hormones which is about seasonal variations in Vitamin D status affecting bone density and was co-authored by Michael Holick.

Demonstration of Glycated Insulin in Human Diabetic Plasma and Decreased Biological Activity Assessed by Euglycemic-Hyperinsulinemic Clamp Technique in Humans which is about how high blood glucose glycates insulin before it's even secreted, resulting in it working less well in muscle cells.

Reduced prevalence of limited joint mobility in type 1 diabetes in a U.K. clinic population over a 20-year period which pretty much does what it says on the tin.

Then, Hunter starts working for The Sugar Bureau and begins co-authoring studies like this:-

Effect of eucaloric high- and low-sucrose diets with identical macronutrient profile on insulin resistance and vascular risk: a randomized controlled trial, scrutinised in Who pays the piper

Low-fat versus low-carbohydrate weight reduction diets: effects on weight loss, insulin resistance, and cardiovascular risk: a randomized control trial, scrutinised in Who pays the piper part 2


Session 4: CVD, diabetes and cancer Diet, insulin resistance and diabetes: the right (pro)portions, which concludes "based on the results of diabetes prevention trials focusing on lifestyle measures, evidence favours low-fat diets as the preferred approach for weight loss and diabetes prevention."

Evidence favours low-fat diets for weight loss and diabetes prevention, huh? See Low-carb diet pitted against low-fat PLUS medication (low-carb still wins) and Diabetes Update

So, getting paid by an organisation which promotes the consumption of sugar makes good science go bad.


Mike said...

Excellent post, Nigel; it clearly indicates we have to use a skeptical eye even light of "solid" science. It's all about the source, and at times, the intentions.

Nigel Kinbrum said...


The older I get, the more cynical & skeptical I become! I was accused of being "anti-science" in an argument on a forum. I was trying to make the point that sometimes, you just can't tell the difference between good science & bad science. This ties-in with some previous posts "Why Most Published Research Findings Are False", "The future: I just saw it", "Research shows....." and "Elvis lives!"

Cheers, Nige. said...

You get what you pay for.

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Michael Barker said...


Thanks for dropping this interesting citation on me.

It's a bit much to wrap my head around with a simple perusal. Some aspects seemed odd to me and I'm going to have to sit down and focus a bit harder.


Nigel Kinbrum said...

Hi Michael.

I thought that you might find that study interesting. After all, insulin is a protein and excessive serum glucose glycates proteins at a higher rate than normal.

Cheers, Nige.

Joe Lindley said...

There is no question that public medical research and institutional authorities are pulling the wool over our eyes on many "clinical studies". The "intention to treat" trick is also used to cover up mediocre results and end up with seemingly significant, actionable results. Thanks for posting!