Thursday, April 27, 2006

Sally Satel on clinical trials

Sally Satel, psychiatrist and scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, gives us a refreshingly balanced and sober perspective on the interpretation of clinical trials in her April 19 article in Medical Progress Today, Patients Adrift in a Sea of Clinical Trials.

Clinical trials often disappoint us. Why? Because we expect too much. We want simple answers when the real truth is complex and nuanced. Too many of us—journalists, opinion leaders and, yes, bloggers—are too lazy to look beyond the abstract or the sound bite, so it’s no wonder we feel deceived and beguiled. For most clinical research papers the devil’s in the details. But now more than ever those details are largely transparent and accessible for those willing to go to the trouble to dig them out.

The bugaboo of industry funding of trials must be addressed by a skepticism that looks beyond the surface and asks hard nosed questions rather than a cynicism that knocks everything down and rejects out of hand all experimental work with industry ties. Industry funded and non-industry funded studies are sure to mislead if simplistically interpreted, but both can yield valuable lessons when examined critically.

These concerns and more are addressed in the article and solutions are offered.

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