Read the latest HealthWatch newsletter:  Newsletter 115, Spring 2021

Published: May 2021

Read the articles and news in Newsletter 115 below, or access the printable 8-page pdf here.

Look here for updates on HealthWatch projects and people, essential publications, online resources and training.

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By David Bender

Since the pandemic broke it has become obvious that if you want to receive wide publicity and research funding one sure-fire way is to include “SARS-CoV-2”, “COVID-19” or “coronavirus” among the key words. The outcome of most research is negative, nevertheless, with these flags your ideas will spread on social media, and even in the reports of reputable journalists. In some cases (e.g., the promotion of the supposed curative properties of hydroxychloroquine) this can cause harm, but in others, for example, the promotion of something useless, but harmless, there are no adverse effects. This may be said of that idea that fermented foods protect you against COVID-19.

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By Allen Frances

It's so easy to start antidepressants, but so hard to stop them. That's why they are prescribed for about 12% of the population in both the UK and the US. In England the number of antidepressant prescriptions doubled between 2008 and 2018,(1) despite the fact that the pills are now off patent, which means that pressure from manufacturers to prescribe can likely be ruled out as a factor. There is no reason to believe that the incidence of psychiatric disorder has increased over time - so why are these pills so popular with practitioners and their patients?

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By Geoff Webb

I have been writing about major errors in the biomedical sciences since the late 1980s. My area of interest widened to include research fraud when I discovered that two authors who I had frequently cited in my own books and papers had been accused of fabricating their data.

A wide range of methods is available to the biomedical researcher: observational epidemiological methods, in vitro and animal studies and experimental studies using human subjects. Meta-analysis has become a very popular method of aggregating similar studies with the same outcome measures; it effectively combines them into a larger study of greater statistical power. Evidence hierarchies or pyramids are used by groups like NICE to decide whether the accumulated evidence favouring a hypothesis is sufficient to authorize treatments or other health-related behaviours. Nevertheless, errors or false theories escape scrutiny and not only reach publication but persist in the scientific and public health consciousness. For example:

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By Keith Isaacson

The arresting title "Evidence and Orthodontics: Does your child really need braces?" headed an interesting and well researched paper (1) from Isobel Whitcomb, a brilliant investigative journalist in the online magazine “Undark” which circulates widely in the USA and is published by Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The article questions the purported medical benefits of traditional orthodontics. In the USA Orthodontics is considered a medical speciality and the medical benefits are promoted. The American Association of Orthodontists suggests that a child should have an orthodontic consultation by the age of seven as “lack of treatment leads to dental decay, gum disease, broken front teeth and loss of bone tissue”. Persistent jaw pain and headaches are threatened if orthodontic treatment is not undertaken.

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