Saturday, 6 February 2016

Just how low are Australian medical research standards?

1. Australian medical researchers tend to be less qualified than their US counterparts. If you don't believe me on this one, compare the authors of major guidelines in an area like heart disease. You will find that many of the US authors who are medical specialists also have a PhD or similar. Not so in Australia. Even many doctors involved in the regulation of medical research in Australia have no formal qualifications in science of any sort. A few lectures from a statistician during your medical training hardly counts. It is no wonder that the current parlous state has developed.

2. Inappropriate research practices are common worldwide. We know this from anonymous surveys of researchers who are asked if any of their colleagues have fudged results. Of course, researchers in Australia almost never report their colleagues because whistleblowers always fare badly.  Berserk legal responses are commonly reported by those who do question their colleagues.

3. These inappropriate practices, even if falling well short of actual fabrication, are serious. One of my previous posts details Retractionwatch comments that they are an insidious and widespread problem that dwarfs data fabrication in importance.

4. Yet despite the above, research retractions are incredibly rare. Retractions and corrections for the problems enumerated by Sessler are virtually unknown.

5. Contrary to popular opinion, all the Australian Research Integrity Commission does is comment on the legal aspects of any institutional review. If there wasn't a review, it won't comment!!!

Retraction are common in the US. Many researchers are found to have conducted research in an inappropriate manner. There are even schools to re-educate researchers. Not so in Australia.

Australians should be seriously alarmed by the inconceivably low number of retractions and findings of inappropriate practice. Standards cannot possibly be that high. The only possible explanation is that dodgy research remains on the books.

Overseas, researchers have been alerted to misconduct on the part of their colleagues by research data that look too perfect, or isn't made available. Australia has both problems. Original, de-identified data is often not made available, despite the Singapore Statement on Research Integrity saying it should be, and Australia's numbers on studies investigated and found to be misleading are way too perfect.

Want to look into it yourself? In Australia you can't. As I said in a previous post, lawyers tell you what to believe.

If you want more definitive evidence of poor research standards in Australia, you may have to wait for a royal commission.

Personally, I do not use any Australian research in determining how to look after my health. Look at my results. Learn how to be sceptical.