A highly regarded service that vets new studies for clinicians finds — on average — only 3,000 of 50,000 new journal articles published each year are well-designed and relevant enough to inform patient care. That’s 6 percent.
More often than not, single studies contradict one another — such as the research on foods that cause or prevent cancer. The truth can be found somewhere in the totality of the research, but we report on every study in isolation underneath flip-flopping headlines. (Red wine will add years to your life one week, and kill you quicker the next.)
For a study on whether everything we eat is associated with cancer, academics randomly selected 50 ingredients from recipes in The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book. Most foods had studies behind them claiming both positive and negative results. Researchers cannot always replicate the findings of other researchers, and for various reasons many don’t even try. All told, an estimated 85 percent — or $200 billion [USD] — of annual global spending on research is wasted on badly designed or redundant studies.
This means early medical research will mostly be wrong until maybe eventually, if we’re lucky, it’s right. More tangibly, only a tiny fraction of new science will lead to anything that’s useful to humans.
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