The Problems With Health Science

There’s a decent video by a British doctor on the various problems with the health science industry. His talking is a bit scattered, but for the most part his opinions are interesting, and IMO correct.

http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf

If you don’t feel like watching, here are the take home points:

1). News that says “new study suggests x might cause y” should not be trusted. See my post about the problems with interpreting medical research results for more information.

2). The drug industry usually games studies to get things approved.

3). The placebo effect is powerful, but is given too much emphasis during the clinical approval process.

4). Very few important medical decisions are made with appropriate information. Often they’re made with really crappy information.

He ends on a dour note, saying he doesn’t see an easy way to solve any of these problems at the moment, and ends with a vague call to action for an industry wide emphasis on transparency to bring more errors in the medical industry under public scrutiny.

Let me add a few thoughts.

1). I think the human intuition to break everything into discrete categories gets us in trouble with interpreting research results. Research is sort of like a garden with different plants always blooming and dieing, and the overall picture evolves like a kaleidoscope. To zero in on any particular correlation from one study is to commit sins of omission.

2). Experts tend to lament the ignorance of the poor common-folk in their particular field, and yearn for the day when everyone will be well informed about what it is they’re experts in, thus solving the dilemmas in their field. You see this attitude everywhere, and I think it’s a chimera. To really create a solution for something, it needs to work with ignorant people, because that’s not going to change. At least not quickly enough to allow someone’s pet plans to come to fruition.

3). On a similar note, it’s best not to focus on how to ensure people have as much information as possible, but instead focus on how to mitigate the bad consequences of someone making an un-informed decision.

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