Ben Goldacre - What Doctors Don't Know About the Drugs They Prescribe

Richard Feynman once defined science as that which we do to avoid fooling ourselves. We humans are universally prone to the cognitive bias known as selection (or confirmation) bias: instead of looking at the big picture, hits and misses alike, we have a natural tendency to look for evidence that confirms the things we already believe, and we tend to ignore and/or forget evidence that would contradict our view of the world.

This is why if you're a liberal, you watch MSNBC, and if you're a conservative, why you watch Faux News. In both cases, you're not really looking for information: you're looking for confirmation. You're listening to people who are going to tell you that the way you see the world is exactly how you think it is. Yes, it's extremely self-congratulatory. This is why you might believe in homeopathic remedies or alternative medicine: you count every time they "worked," and are completely unaware of the much greater amount of times when they don't, and so you think they count as real medicine.

And science, and scientific thinking in general, are supposed to be an antidote against confirmation bias, but as Ben Goldacre explains in the following chilling TEDTalk, there is a major problem with selection bias in the reporting and publishing of scientific studies regarding the health effects of various drugs: the studies that tend to get published are those that find a positive effect, while studies that find no effect, or even an adverse effect, tend not to see the light of day. And if your doctor is prescribing some medication based on this incomplete amount of information (through no fault of his own), it's your health that is ultimately at risk...




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