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Commentary

Science and Shams
David Shaywitz, The Boston Globe, 7-27-06

Shaywitz, a practicing physician, contends that the growing controversy over corporate involvement in medical research is much ado about nothing. Shaywitz further argues that industry involvement in medical research is critical because of the extraordinary costs of drug development.

While fraud itself is fortunately quite rare in science, you still shouldn't believe everything you read. It turns out that the scientific literature is characterized by a shockingly high rate of irreproducibility, often estimated to exceed 50 percent. A review of this subject last year in the journal PLOS-Medicine by Dr. John Ioannidis became an instant cult classic.

Among the factors associated with irreproducibility includes a category Ioannidis terms "financial and other interests and prejudices," since "prejudice may not necessarily have financial roots." Such nonfinancial prejudice may include a bias toward a particular scientific theory, a bias against competing researchers or perspectives, and a desire to generate publications for career advancement. Unfortunately, the newfound obsession with financial conflicts of interest obscures these other, often more compelling pressures on university researchers. Ultimately, the myopic focus on financial conflicts is likely to discourage relationships between university researchers and drug companies—a bad idea, since these associations offer enormous potential for medical advancement.



Project FDA.
  
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