An article in The Atlantic reports on Dr. John Ioannidis's attempts to meta-analyze clinical trial results. He found that 80% of non-randomized trials, 25% of gold-standard randomized trials, and 25% of platinum-standard trials are simply wrong. Even more alarming is the medical community's tendency to cite these trials long after they are proven wrong.
Results are often tainted by pharmaceutical companies' data manipulation, grant-seeking researchers' need to publish sensational findings, and a flawed peer review process.
"That we're not routinely made seriously ill by this shortfall," he argues, "is due largely to the fact that most medical interventions and advice don't address life-and-death situations, but rather aim to leave us marginally healthier or less unhealthy, so we usually neither gain nor risk all that much."
"Science is a noble endeavor but it's a low yield endeavor," he says. "I'm not sure that more than a very small percentage of medical research is ever likely to lead to major improvements in clinical outcomes and quality of life. We should be very comfortable with this fact."
That said, we are still not snubbing our noses at Zanax on long flights and heart surgery if the need arises.