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Junk Science is a description of flawed scientific research or the selective use of data from studies. Businesses, organizations, and individuals can use junk science to further their own political or financial fortunes. For pharmaceutical companies, junk science is now an integral part of their massive marketing campaigns.When tests on a new drug reveal one beneficial effect and two harmful ones, drug companies frequently employ junk science to ignore the negatives and promote the positive. That’s why the headlines of drug ads promise miraculous relief from some condition or disease, while the small print warns of congestive heart failure, rapid weight gain, and many other problems that are much worse than the original condition.

One major reason why drug companies are able to utilize junk science to their financial benefit is that the FDA conducts no trials on the drugs that it’s supposed to regulate. Instead, the FDA trusts the drug companies to do their own testing and to be honest about disclosing the findings.

As the results clearly show, it’s a system that doesn’t work, and in an attempt to cover itself, the FDA has announced plans for a new system of reporting problems with drugs after they win FDA approval. That’s an idea that makes a thinking person wonder why the FDA doesn’t make the drug companies prove the safety of their products before they gain approval.

50 years ago, the system for bringing drugs to market was different and better. Then, the accepted method of testing was clinical trials. Independent researchers would give one group a new drug and another group a placebo, and then compare the results. Many important drugs proved their value in clinical trials, and consumers had a legitimate expectation of safety when they used a new medicine. Then the independent testing went away and self-serving junk science moved in.

Junk science is something that anyone can use to attempt to sell things or to advance a certain political belief.

Should a baseball coach decide that he could make some extra money if he could convince parents that their children would have a better chance at a professional contract if the children could hit left-handed. The coach would find some numbers to support his theory, and then he would persuade the parents to hire him to teach their children to hit from the first base side of the plate.

The coach could easily cite statistics that would “prove” that hitting left-handed gives a baseball player an advantage. For example, the coach could show parents that over the last 30 years, 40 of 60 major league batting champions have been either left-handed hitters or switch-hitters. That would be true, but the statistical sample would be far too small to have any scientific validity. It wouldn’t prove that all left-handed hitters are better than all right-handed hitters, and it wouldn’t take into account all the factors that might have contributed to those 40 batting championships.

And, when an informed parent would point out that right-handed hitters have led the major leagues in home runs more often than lefties have won batting titles, the coach would dismiss that argument by saying that the benefits of a higher average outweigh the negative effects, such as more strikeouts, of being a home run hitter.

In the context of baseball, junk science would seem harmless and even laughable, but when drug companies use junk science, it’s literally a matter of life and death. If pharmaceutical companies’ tests don’t produce the desired results for a new drug, those companies routinely distort the results or withhold the damaging reports. Then they claim that any misrepresentation of their findings was “inadvertent”. Meanwhile, doctors prescribe the dangerous new drugs, and patients suffer and die.

Exhibit A in the drug industry’s use of Junk Science may be Vioxx, a pill used to treat arthritis before Merck, the manufacturer, pulled it from the market. Merck deliberately downplayed results from two separate trials that showed Vioxx tripled the chances of death in users.

Merck also used paid consultants or its own employees to write reports on the drug, instead of the doctors who actually conducted the trials. Eventually, Merck’s use of junk science resulted in a $4.85 Billion settlement for the damage done by Vioxx.

That settlement didn’t bring an end to the use of junk science by pharmaceutical companies. They’re still hard at work manipulating the facts to increase their sales.

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Richard Alexander