An analysis published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that studies of antidepressants that had positive results were more likely to be published in medical journals compared with those that had negative or questionable results. The findings showed that 94 percent of all published trials appeared to have positive results, while FDA reviews determined that 51 percent of all trials, both published and unpublished, had positive outcomes.
In the analysis, the researchers examined data for 74 antidepressant studies submitted to the FDA between 1987 and 2004. The results showed that 37 of the 38 trials the agency considered as having positive results were published, compared with 14 of the 36 trials that the FDA considered negative or questionable. Additionally, of the 14 negative or questionable studies that were published, 11 “conveyed a positive outcome” that was not justified by the FDA review, lead author Erick Turner stated.
The C&L post is irksome for a number of reasons.
The post brought out a number of conspiracy theorists including, it seems, John Amato, the founder of C&L. Aha! Bad studies are being underreported! Obviously this is a pharmo-fascist conspiracy to hide to truth and line the pockets of big business!
There’s a real problem with that logic. Suppose, for a moment, that we were talking about papers in geography, instead of antidepressants, and a study reported found that “94 percent of all published results suggested the Earth is round, while reviews determined that only 51 percent of all papers, both published and unpublished, suggested this.”
What would this suggest to you? We are quite confident that the Earth is round, so we would probably assume that the flat-Earth studies were flawed, and therefore rejected through the peer-review process. That’s what peer-review is supposed to do! Peer-review is supposed to filter poor and flawed results from being included in the general body of scientific knowledge.
That isn’t to say that there couldn’t be a conspiracy to promote antidepressants. But the study as quoted doesn’t prove it one way or another! It could be a conspiracy to hide the negative results of drugs that don’t work, or it could be the peer-review process supporting the reality that the drugs do work!
That hasn’t stopped the conspiracy theorists from coming out of the woodwork. To quote from a few flawed comments:
Oh and did you know that most all of the school, mall shooters in the last 20 years were on one type of SSRI or another?
This is a classic ‘correlation vs. causality’ logical flaw. Emotionally unstable people are more likely to be treated with medications, including antidepressants. Emotionally unstable people are also more likely to shoot up a mall. The common link between antidepressants and mall shootings is emotional instability. Again, independent of the effectiveness or lack thereof of antidepressants, I would expect mall shooters to be highly likely to be on them.
Incidentally, note the utter absence of links in all the assertions in the comments above. There’s no evidence used to back up any of these ‘claims’; they’re little more than conspiracy-laden rants.
It’s fair to be suspicious of over-optimistic claims that come from profit-motivated businesses, but it’s absurd and even dangerous to automatically discount new medicines and technologies simply because they come from ‘the man’.