Biased medical studies could be impacting how doctors treat you

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – Each year, thousands of medical studies are published worldwide to better help doctors understand how to treat patients.

However, now more attention is being paid to publication bias and issues with the transparency of these same studies. According to some in the medical field, roughly 50 percent of studies completed are never published, partly because those conducting them find their results “negative.”

“It’s similar to having a really beautiful complex painting and then throwing a blanket over half of it,” said Martin Mayer, a clinical assistant professor at ECU.

Mayer has studied publication bias for years. He said even the studies published are often skewed because they leave out the “unfavorable” findings.

In one case study, Mayer found there were just as many positive studies as negative studies on a particular topic. However, less than 10 percent of negative studies were published, while more than 90 percent of positive studies were released to the public.

He said this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t trust your doctor, but does believe it makes it harder for medical experts to live up to the high expectations patients often have.

“It’s hard to know if we can ever be certain about what the best care possible really is,” he said.

Mayer said there is an effort underway in the medical community to make sure all results are published.


U.S. and FDA requirements say all trials must be published within a year of completion, but further studies show that still isn’t happening.

Mayer said the community can help in the fight to ensure study transparency by signing this petition, and contacting local lawmakers to request more surveillance of these studies.

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