Do what you believe, believe what you do

The above quote (by me, ofcourse!) sounds to be pretty positive, doesn’t it? Well, yes it is. But it could, infact, be positively negative. Think of it this way. When a researcher begins his work, he/she starts off with a set of questions. These questions, as Ioannidis says, may be leaning towards the development of “eye-catching theories”. Basically, they have a hypothesis that could potentially be path-breaking, they formulate relevant questions to the fabricated theory and work out a plan to prove it. And so, they believed in something, went about doing it and now, but naturally, they believe in it. Now do you think it’s a good thing?

Frankly, I think I can quite understand this “mad rush to publish” or to be funded that everyone’s talking about. The pressure of being in research is quite….subtle, I must say. We are made to believe there is all the time in the world to do something, yet, there pink elephant (thesis topic etc) is always in the room. How many people know just what they want to do before getting into a PhD program? How long does it take for someone to figure out what exactly it is that they want to research on? What if, the topic is infact not something they are interested in, but something their advisor really wants them to work on? What is they lose motivation half the way? Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not for a second saying that this pressure warrants making up or manipulating data, but these are just questions that plague me.

The Freedman article in The Atlantic really, really caught my attention. Why? Because medical research has been my area of curiosity, if you may call it, for a long long time. Those random claims – one day, chocolate is good for the heart, and the next, it could cause cancer! – always made me wonder about its credibility. It was a joke among my family, we’d say, “Eat what you like today, tomorrow someone’s bound to say it’s not good for you”. And we’d laugh because we believed it was a joke. I never extrapolated that to the entire medical community really, I was just laughing at who I believed were bored scientists looking at discovering something. A random joke, a random thought, actually had meaning. Not so naive, for a layman, don’t you think? Or is intuition much, I wonder.

Back in India, visits to the Doctor meant waiting in the lobby for a while to get treated. During that time, on certain days, the clinic would be filled with “medical representatives” – sling bag with goodies et al. They would wait around in clusters, discussing their “new products” – some pill, some vaccine or some equipment, that they were there to market. They would leave samples of these products with the Doctor, for him to test. Whenever it was my turn to go in, I would wonder if I was today’s guinea pig. I’ve even gone home and googled the name of the medicine to see if it was popular enough before I was confident of using it. It scared me to think I was taking a medicine that had no established cure potential. What if tomorrow it was proven to cause contrary effects? But somehow, I guess, we trust the Doctors. Yes, that same veritable trust that we have discussed so often in this class.

It was funny to note CDC’s “Notice to Readers”. They came out and glossed over the missing data and almost made themselves seem credible and just almost claiming they promptly included all those 9000 something data once they realized they were missing! So, they had 2 notices issued on one of their publications! Their level of, I don’t know if I can say this openly but here goes – Stupidity, amazes me! So I can do a paper today and issue 5 notices 5 years later saying I missed a majority of the data but YET what I found out then stays the same. And then I can change the wordings on a couple of sentences, highlight a couple more that were said earlier thinking that it would go on to establish the validity of their earlier work. Interesting, tactic – maybe I will just try it! ;)

References:

1. Freedman, D. H. 2010. Lies, Damned Lies, and Medical Science. The Atlantic (Nov.), pp. 1-12, http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/11/lies-damned-lies-and-medical-science/8269/.

2. Markowitz, G. and R. Rosner. 2002. “Old Poisons, New Problems.” In Deceit and Denial: The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution, 108-138. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

3. Jasanoff, S. 2012. Technologies of Humility: Citizen Participation in Governing Science. In M. Winston and R. Edelbach, eds., Society, Ethics, and Technology, pp. 102-113. Boston, MA: Wadsworth.

4. CDC. 2010. Notice to Readers: Examining the Effect of Previously Missing Blood Lead Surveillance Data on Results Reported in MMWR. MMWR 59(19):592, http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5919a4.htm.

5. CDC. 2010. Notice to Readers: Limitations Inherent to a Cross-Sectional Assessment of Blood Lead Levels Among Persons Living in Homes with High Levels of Lead in Drinking Water. MMWR 59(24):751, http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5924a6.htm.

 

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