Unethical Behavior in Medical and Psych Research Is Depressing

Fraud, negligence, misguided good intentions combined with poor study design, intellectual conformity… these are among the problems plaguing research.

A couple of links as examples:

  • Possible fabricated evidence in Alzheimer’s research.
  • A chemical imbalance theory of depression, pushed for years by many psych professionals and the media, doesn’t have much evidence to back it up. (By the way, if you’re currently on antidepressants, please discuss any concerns with your doctor and don’t just abruptly stop taking them. That itself could be harmful.)

Researchers irresponsibly push a narrative unsupported by strong evidence, or they manipulate methodologies and results to achieve the outcomes they want. Maybe they subscribe to a certain ideology, or they’re trying to appease their backers. They may want to increase their stature in a university by producing work that seems groundbreaking.

Ultimately, patients suffer, their underlying problems left neglected and misunderstood. Low-quality research (and misrepresentations of research) have helped fuel medical scandals, such as the excessive prescription of opioid painkillers.

Is all shoddy research the result of intentional fraud? No. Many researchers don’t deliberately behave in unethical ways. But the methods they use are so flawed that they produce worthless or harmful results. There needs to be a concerted effort to improve the quality of research – as argued in this article on how most biomedical research is ridiculously flawed.

Transparency is critical too. One example – there are some serious (alarmingly serious) concerns about the quality of widely touted research on adolescent gender dysphoria. This is a politicized topic, but that’s even more reason to scrutinize the quality of studies and discuss them openly. All patients deserve care based on high-quality research.

We need more rigor in research. We have to stop assuming that peer review is the be-all, end-all standard for whether a study is worth something. Scrutiny and public discussions are essential too, and I wish journalists were better at reporting the actual results and implications of a study, not an exaggerated version.

I don’t expect researchers to always “get things right.” I do hope for better study design and more scrutiny to help fight shoddy research practices, including acts of deliberate fraud.

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