Our culture confers a very high status and respect on all doctors and scientists as though they are somehow better or more ethical than the average person. Our culture also tends to assume that doctors are all knowing and always know more than those who aren’t doctors.
A case in point. I attended a meeting last week where I was discussing some science that contradicted the Federal government’s stance on some nutritional recommendations. A fellow participant of the meeting replied “well my dad is a doctor and he says, ….” The fact that this man’s father is a doctor does not mean he has necessarily read more than me, does not mean that he has not been influenced by flawed medical research or by a drug sales rep, does not mean that he is the holder of some absolute truth unavailable to the rest of us. Yet that was the message of his son and this is quite common in our culture. Of course, this is not to suggest that doctors know nothing, that they are all corrupt, that they are all arrogant, etc. It is simply to say that our society often seems to forget that doctors and scientists are people, just like the rest of us.
Last week I came across a couple pieces of important information that serve as a healthy reminder of this principle, that people in science and medicine are human, just like you and me. One of them was an article on Medscape called Five More Physicians Indicted in Massive Fraud Case. Reading through the article I learned that 9 physicians had been charged as part of a large operation defrauding Medicare, Medicaid and insurers. The article focuses on the “boss” of the operation but 9 physicians are accused of taking bribes. As is often said, it takes two to tango.
The other item I became aware of is an article in the New England Journal of Medicine called Selective Publication of Antidepressant Trials and Its Influence on Apparent Efficacy. The authors examined 74 research trials registered with FDA to examine antidepressant drugs. Of those 74 studies, 38 were deemed positive and 37 studies were published. Of the remaining 34 studies deemed negative or questionable , only 3 were published. Interestingly, FDA recognized that all 38 of the positive studies were positive but when it came to the negative or questionable studies, the FDA took a far more lenient or forgiving view and classified many of the negative studies as positive, supporting their official conclusions and policy.
While the authors of the study call this “publication bias”, a less euphemistic term might be corrupt or fraudulent. As more and more research is published condemning both the accuracy and veracity of pharmaceutical paid “scientific” trials, and as this corruption is reported in the media, though often not in the corporate media, the public is awakening to the fact that scientists and doctors are just as human as the rest of us and therefore just as susceptible to wanting to get ahead, wanting to make money, wanting to avoid sticking their neck out, etc.
People are realizing that science is not some independent, absolute truth but the creation of humans, often designed to convey a message they want to convey, to an unwitting public. So when then the CDC wheels out another study claiming no link between vaccines and autism using data from a study condemned as fraudulent for concealing the fact that babies exposed in utero to just 16 micrograms of the mercury in thimerosal are 8 times more likely to receive an autism diagnosis, is it any wonder the public does not believe them?1