By Dr. Mercola
Most people assume that scientific integrity is somehow assured; that there are safeguards along the way, preventing fraudulent research from harming patients.
Unfortunately, scientific misconduct has become a very serious and widespread problem that threatens the entire paradigm of science-based medicine—unless changes are made.
Again and again, papers assessing the prevalence of scientific fraud and/or the impact this is having shows that the situation is dire and getting worse. In short, we have lost scientific integrity, and without it, “science-based medicine” is just a term without substance.
Conflict of interest is another pervasive problem within the research field, and the featured article highlights a case that contains both.
Beta-blockers are drugs commonly used in the treatment of high blood pressure and congestive heart failure. They work primarily by blocking the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and epinephrine (adrenaline) from binding to beta receptors, thereby dilating blood vessels, which reduces your heart rate and blood pressure.
Until recently, the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) also recommended using beta-blockers in patients undergoing non-cardiac surgery.
A recent article in Forbes Magazine1 highlights how medical guidelines based on questionable science may have resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands of patients in just a few years:
“Last summer, British researchers provoked concern when they published a paper raising the possibility that by following an established guideline UK doctors may have caused as many as 10,000 deaths each year,2” Larry Husten, editorial director of WebMD professional news, writes.
“Now, they have gone a step further and published an estimate that the same guideline may have led to the deaths of as many as 800,000 people in Europe over the last five years3…
The 800,000 deaths are comparable in size to the worst cases of genocide and mass murder in recent history.”
Guideline Based on Discredited Research May Have Caused 800,000 Deaths
The paper, originally published in the online version of the European Heart Journal,4 is a testament to the dangers of modern medicine, and why scientific rigor needs to be reestablished as the norm. As I’ve discussed before, scientific misconduct by medical researchers affects real people, living real lives. It could affect you.
When flawed research is used as the basis for medical guidelines, people that shouldn’t die do… All in the name of increasing profits to the drug company with reckless abandon and little to no concern for the casualties.
The issue goes back to research done by Don Poldermans,5 a cardiovascular researcher in the Netherlands, who was fired for scientific misconduct in 2011. Some of the strongest evidence for the European Society of Cardiology’s (ESC) guidelines on beta-blocker use in patients undergoing non-cardiac surgery came from Poldermans’ DECREASE trial.
It’s well worth noting that Poldermans was also the chairman of the committee that drafted the guideline (he has since resigned from his position with the task force6). While his DECREASE trial has not as of yet been retracted, the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam stated7 he was fired because he was:
“…careless in collecting the data for his research. In one study, it was found that he used patient data without written permission, used fictitious data and that two reports were submitted to conferences which included knowingly unreliable data.”
You would think that once this was known, immediate action would result. However, it took two years before the ESC withdrew the beta-blocker recommendation once the Poldermans scandal had unraveled. This is absolutely scandalous as nearly a half of a million people died unnecessarily due to the delay.
In that two-year span, many European clinicians may have felt that their hands were tied, as failing to follow guidelines can lead to being penalized—even if the doctor knows the guidelines are likely to do more harm than good. As reported by Forbes:8
“They note that more than half of the lives lost—potentially more than 400,000—may ‘have occurred after the research was discredited,’ though some of the damage may have been mitigated if doctors changed their practice after reading about the controversy…
Cole and Francis argue that much needs to be changed in the application of medical research: ‘The aviation profession has led the way in systems to prevent, recognize, study, and learn from professional failures. Clinical medicine is now following the same path. We must develop similar systems for research.'”