A Fascinating but Sad Story from the Publishing Industry

The danger of drugs … and data | Ben Goldacre | Comment is free | The Guardian.

Elsevier, a formerly reputable scientific and medical publisher has been outed in a law suit from Australia for publishing what purported to be medical journals, but were in reality marketing pieces paid for by Big Pharma.

This kind of lack of transparency, and also attempts to establish a false but trustworthy reputation for publications or speakers on the Internet will be one of the information literacy challenges of our time.

How do we know if something we read is believeable? The fake medical journals call into question the physicians who served on their editorial boards, and the way we make important policy decisions which ought to be based on facts.

It has been estimated it would take 700 hours a month to read the thousands of academic articles relevant to a GP; doctors skim, they take shortcuts, they rely on summaries, or worse. We could perform better when giving them information, but for now, it will often be “actually, I think I’ve seen at least two studies on that, and in different journals”.

The real tragedy is that the cost of distorted information, and irrational prescribing, is far greater than the cost of the research that could prevent it. Health systems pay for these drugs – state-funded in almost every single developed country – and they largely pay for the journals, too. In a sensible world, countries would band together and pay for comparative research themselves, and the free, open distribution of the results, to prevent all this nonsense.

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