Sunday, 16 September 2012

Where's My Foil Hat?

Sometimes I do feel like a member of the 'Tin Foil Hat Brigade' when it comes to health and fitness.  But whilst I am confident that man walked on the moon and that 9/11 was NOT an 'inside job', when it comes to Big Pharma, my Spidey sense tingles big time.

It just seems that more and more evidence is accumulating that most modern ailments (apart from the oldest, dying itself), are different manifestations of the same central problem; poor nutrition and inadequate physical stimulus (exercise, resting and fasting).  Between these to points is a whole swathe of biology - metabilism and a hormonal milieu to complicate things.  Thus, for example with breast cancer we find apparently disparate links between this and night working, and possible links between breast cancer and dementia.

No whilst it is natural for us to miss the big picture and treat these 'symptoms' rather than target an underlying cause, and while it is also foreseeable that we have historically treated these problems independently for exactly the same reason, I can't help thinking that this status quo persists because it is the most profitable model.

It seems that I am not alone in these latter thoughts, and in France some much closer to Big Pharma than I have similar suspicions.  The Guardian carries the following pretty damning headline Half of drugs prescribed in France useless or dangerous, say two specialists,
  • Half of all medicines being prescribed by doctors in France are either useless or potentially dangerous for patients, according to two eminent medical specialists. They blame the powerful pharmaceutical companies for keeping these drugs on sale at huge expense to the health system and the taxpayer.
The list of drugs in question includes statins (called "completely useless" which, whilst broadly true is not totally accurate).  Now the scientists in the article are trying to sell a book, but the vertical integration of pharma throughout the pharmaceutical research and development is factual, evident and worrying,
  • Professor Even told the Guardian most of the drugs criticised in the book are produced by French laboratories. He accused the pharmaceutical industry of pushing medicines at doctors who then push them on to patients. "The pharmaceutical industry is the most lucrative, the most cynical and the least ethical of all the industries," he said. "It is like an octopus with tentacles that has infiltrated all the decision making bodies, world health organisations, governments, parliaments, high administrations in health and hospitals and the medical profession.
 As we saw with the recent financial crash, monetising stuff pushes out social norms of behaviour.  Follow the money.

UPDATE: New Scientist have also questioned the reproducibility of biomedical findings,
  • REPRODUCIBILITY is the cornerstone of science. What we hold as definitive scientific fact has been tested over and over again. Even when a fact has been tested in this way, it may still be superseded by new knowledge. Newtonian mechanics became a special case of Einstein's general relativity; molecular biology's mantra "one gene, one protein" became a special case of DNA transcription and translation.
    One goal of scientific publication is to share results in enough detail to allow other research teams to reproduce them and build on them. However, many recent reports have raised the alarm that a shocking amount of the published literature in fields ranging from cancer biology to psychology is not reproducible. 
The influence of 'financials' is also noted!
  • The cost of this failure is high. As I have experienced at first hand as a researcher, attempts to reproduce others' published findings can be expensive and frustrating. Drug companies have spent vast amounts of time and money trying and failing to reproduce potential drug targets reported in the scientific literature - resources that should have contributed towards curing diseases.
UPDATE2: Nature also has a good piece on the problem of replication in psychology.

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