So It Turns Out That Science is Not an Exact Science

Is there a movement afoot in the mainstream media to undermine research funding?  First, Scientific American proclaims that genomic medicine has pretty much failed and now the Atlantic follows with an article on how you can’t trust ANY scientific research, let alone genetic research.  Both make some important and valid points, but the very sensationalism they criticize the research community for using is clearly evident in their approach, as well.  The articles are definitely more nuanced than the headlines, but we all know the stats on how many Americans actually read past the headline. Uff da, now I’m going to have to sharpen my pencil for more letters to the editor.

I think medical research has been pretty lousy at managing expectations, but you can hardly blame them.  In our current anti-science culture the only way to have a prayer of getting funding is to oversell the promise of your research.  Couple that with the mythical, almost cult-like status bestowed on the concept of evidence-based medicine over the past two decades and you have a recipe for creative deception.

But let’s look at this in practical terms. How does the current system ultimately impact the supposed target of all this funding–people who are sick and need treatments? I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that there are actually no bad guys– at least not intentionally bad guys–here and that , in fact, it is the convoluted system we have created that is to blame.  This is what is keeping people from getting what they need.  Let’s break this down into component parts:

1.) Drug developers and manufacturers.  They want to bring products to the market and consumers want them to bring products to the market.  This is an expensive proposition and companies are not in business to lose money.  It ultimately benefits all of us if drug companies can stay in business and continue to produce products that improve our lives.  However, the profit motive can at times lead to the creation of phantom markets where drugs are being marketed for questionable or even clearly inappropriate uses (see: medicalization).  Concern about this lead to the creation of consumer protection laws which require proof of safety and efficacy in order for a company to legally market a product.  Compliance with these laws can be very costly, especially when dealing with component 2…

2.) The FDA.

(more to come)


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