When our oldest son was born two months premature, my wife and I received a crash course in medical technology.
Seventeen years later, I remember it vividly. Kyle was sequestered for a month in the ICU, a 4 pound 5 ounce boy nestled in the middle of a mass of monitors, wires and tubes. At times, it was an overwhelming situation, but how grateful we were for the miracle of modern technology that kept our son out of danger and, quite literally, alive.
There was wonder and amazement at every turn. How did they know how to measure oxygen with a little light sensor on his finger? Kyle couldn’t speak, but the doctors knew what he needed and how to help him get it. What a tremendous job they did not only helping him to survive – but thrive, too.
Kyle [and his parents] was the beneficiaries of years and years of medical research. In 1900, it wasn’t unusual for some U.S. cities to lose 30% of their newborn infants in the first year of life. Had our son been born years earlier, he likely wouldn’t have made it.
Clearly, the medical profession has made unfathomable strides in just the past few years, let alone in my own lifetime. They seem to be regularly discovering things that once were deemed impossible. Quite literally, many once blind can now see and many once deaf can now hear.
We live in an age of miracles.
Yet, despite these amazing strides, it’s important to be on the alert for groups or companies who regularly use the system to further their own agenda.
I was reading the other day that more than 60 percent of clinical studies are funded by the pharmaceutical and biotech industries. In other words, many of the results we read about are framed and written by marketers who have a chip in the game. If the results of a study are unfavorable, companies often delay – sometimes forever – the release of the information.
Dr. Drummond Rennie is deputy editor of The Journal of the American Medical Association. He recently expressed frustration with this very thing. "This is all about bypassing science,” he said. “Medicine is becoming a sort of Cloud Cuckoo Land, where doctors don't know what papers they can trust in the journals, and the public doesn't know what to believe."
There are scary consequences of manipulating data. Number one, the public becomes confused to the point of ignoring even reputable studies. Just consider a typical news cycle:
One month, red meat causes heart disease, the next month it’s considered a vital source of protein. Recently, I read that hot dogs cause cancer, coffee was both good and bad for me – all in the same month!
Junk science studies do more harm than good, if they really do any good at all. Today, we all know that cigarettes can cause cancer, but years ago, tobacco companies paid big bucks to conduct bogus studies claiming the exact opposite. It took decades to get to the unfiltered [no pun intended] truth.
I was reminded of this when I read, just this month, about a new study that was released claiming that Autism and Asperger Syndrome was much more prevalent than previously known. The report put the new numbers at 1 in 100.
The study shocked me, 1 in 100 if it is true is overwhelming! Unfortunately, I immediately found myself doubting the results because the article I was reading said some believe its methodology was flawed – and because it had been sponsored by “Austism Speaks.” They’re an organization dedicated to raising awareness of autism and other related issues.
There are only so many dollars available for medical research. It’s a highly competitive world, this quest for grants and long-term funding. If the industry is controlled solely by profit seekers, there is a very strong likelihood that the less profitable pursuits will be ignored.
I wonder where the world of “special needs interests” falls in the scale of corporate profitability. I’m not overly optimistic.
Isn’t it ironic? I live in this age of wonder, and though there are more and more inventions and discoveries on a daily basis, I find myself trusting doctors and companies less and less.
Is this a good thing? Is there such a thing as healthy skepticism?
I like what John Adams, our nation’s second president once wrote. “There is danger from all men,” he warned. “The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty.”
Our fortieth president, Ronald Reagan, also had something to say about trust, and its wisdom is as poignant as it is practical.
“Trust,” he would say, “but verify. It’s still play – but YOU cut the cards.”
As patients and parents, we might not have as much control over these things as we’d like, but we can – and should – practice some discernment when told of the latest study, trend or discovery.
Read. Ask questions. Too much is at stake to do any less.