Dr. Silverstein and Dr. Poses in WSJ: "The Literature Is Hardly Pristine"

I have considered Dr. Roy Poses' Dec. 14, 2010 post "The Lancet Emphasizes the Threats to the Academic Medical Mission" (with its hyperlinks to source posts and articles) an excellent summary of many of the pathologies we address at Healthcare Renewal, especially with regard to the academic mission and the disruption of the integrity of the medical literature by commercial interests. His post is consistent with what might be considered our mission statement:

Addressing threats to health care's core values, especially those stemming from concentration and abuse of power. Advocating for accountability, integrity, transparency, honesty and ethics in leadership and governance of health care.

The Wall Street Journal published the following letter to the editor authored by me today in which I cited and summarized Dr. Poses' accounting of the medical literature's ills.

Unfortunately, the print version cannot contain the hyperlinks as in the aforementioned source post, but I have included them in the reproduced letter below in [brackets]. They are worth reviewing, along with additional links at the aforementioned source post "The Lancet Emphasizes the Threats to the Academic Medical Mission":

April 8, 2011
Wall Street Journal
Letters to the Editor

The Literature Is Hardly Pristine

I find it unfortunate having to inform reader James Reichmann, (Letters, April 1) who prefers his physician to recommend only treatments proven in the "synthesized medical literature," that the very literature on which he wishes his life to depend may be tainted.

As Dr. Roy Poses points out on the Healthcare Renewal Blog, numerous factors common in today's culture can and do corrupt the literature.

The factors include but are not limited to: rampant commercialization of medicine [here, here, here and here], research universities with lax conflict of interest policies [here], faculty as de facto employees of industry through grants [here], academics paid to be "key opinion leaders" to stealth-market drugs and devices [here], control of clinical research given to commercial sponsors [here], conflicts of interest allowing manipulation and suppression of clinical research [here and here], academics taking credit for articles written by commercially paid industry "ghost writers," [here and here], whistleblowing discouraged [here and here], leadership of academic medical centers by business people [here] and medical school leaders becoming stewards (as members of boards of directors) of for-profit health-care corporations [here, here, here and here].

As for me, until the medical literature can be freed of these contaminants, I'd rather trust a well-trained personal physician's good judgment in my own medical care.

Scot Silverstein, M.D.

Drexel University


I believe it's also worth reviewing my own views on the subject, that the degree of contamination of medical literature is unknown and may be unrecoverable, due to spread of the contaminant vectors to the "experts" who then propagate the disease.

See my Aug. 2009 post "Has Ghostwriting Infected The Experts With Tainted Knowledge, Creating Vectors for Further Spread and Mutation of the Scientific Knowledge Base?" where I raise these questions.

At that post I suggest that while the damage might not be easily recoverable, the practices that lead to contaminated literature must be stopped going forward if true evidence-based medicine is ever to be a reality.

-- SS

4/12/2011 addendum:

Almost predictably, some anonymous person, this time over at the Respectful Insolence blog in commenting on a post there that attacks "naturopathic" medicine, proffered strawman arguments about my piece above in comment #26.

... So Dr. Silverstein thinks that the defects he cites (many of which have been revealed by and hotly debated within the scientific community) are ample justification for tossing out the entirety of research in favor of the sort of "clinical intuition" that's repeatedly been found false over the years

This binary, two-dimensional thinking is quite sad to read, if real. I'll be charitable in saying that the comment does have the "feel" of something contrived, such as received before from corporate sockpuppets.

-- SS

4/13 addendum:

The proprietor of Respectful Insolence assures me that "anonymous" quoted above is not a sockpuppet. My response was basically that before attacking non-anonymous authors by name on the web who in fact (as is clear from my writing here) share similar views on medical quackery, one should contact them first to ensure you truly understand their views.

(In my case, my view is that the "well-trained physicians" of good judgment I wrote of consider the literature critically but are not bound to it, in consideration of the unknown level of its commercialization-based contamination and the variability of individual patient situations. They treat the patient, not the guideline.)

-- SS