Corrupted Research – Exposing the Peer Review Process

When you hear about new medical breakthroughs in the news, you will only hear about peer reviewed research. Peer reviewed means that it passed some sort of basic standards for quality. It is the gold standard of research.

But is it real gold, or fool’s gold?

Medical research seems especially mystical and awe inspiring to the average person. The basic concepts of medicine, which aren’t really difficult to understand, are deliberately cloaked in Latin terminology and other confusing jargon, making medical knowledge and theory seem out of reach to the common person.

After all, every profession needs to make you think you need their services. Lawyers make the legal system so complex and confusing that the average person is completely helpless without legal assistance. Accountants help the IRS tweak the tax code to make it virtually impossible for the average person to know it all, understand it all, or follow all the changes constantly being made. Doctors have made it so you cannot request medical tests or take drugs without their prescription. You name a profession, and you can see ways it perpetuates itself by disempowering the public.

What about the medical research profession?

One of the most important things to know about medical research is that, above all else, it is a profession. Researchers make their money usually from both salaries and grants. The job of the researcher is to find a sponsor for their special type of research. The more research projects and publications they get, the more sponsors they have, and the higher their income. And if a researcher comes up with a patentable device or drug, there are intellectual property rights to throw into the compensation package.

This means that researchers do not work for free. They are mercenary. There may be very interesting and, by social standards, very important research that needs to be done that they could do. But unless, and until, they are paid to do it, the work does not get done.

This means that the funding sources of research, be it the government or private sources, determine what research is actually done. Most of the money for medical research comes from the private sector, usually drug companies, which is why drugs dominate modern medicine. Government funding is little different, since it comes from agencies that are highly lobbied by drug companies, and are run by doctors trained and paid by drug companies. Medicine is a public-private partnership, giving the pharmaceutical industry government-like power over the culture and its healthcare research.

Research into non-drug alternatives are rarely done for this reason. It is also why medicine claims it knows very little about the causes of most diseases of our time. They care much more about the treatment than the cause, since treatment is profitable for the research sponsors, while knowing the cause can lead to prevention, which translates in medical terminology into “unbillable”.

Of course, this is a pretty big scam to pull off. Consider its scope. The public is taxed and begged for donations to pay for medical research that goes into discovering drug treatments that the public will later have to pay incredibly high prices to obtain, and only after paying the doctor for an office visit to get a prescription. And if the drug gives nasty side effects it only leads to more calls for more money to find newer drugs with different side effects.

Is the public getting a good deal here? How do you know the research is scientifically valid? Where is the quality control?

Since most people have been conditioned into believing that they cannot judge medical research unless they have a Ph.D., M.D., N.D., or other license, the research is evaluated for you by other scientists in the field. This is called peer review.

Scientists doing research, as with all professions, belong to a club of like-minded researchers in the same business, promoting their services and products. They belong to the same kinds of industries, such as universities or large multinational drug corporations. They have the same education, which means they all think alike. The purpose of their organization is to provide standards of practice that are supposed to assure quality. Any research must first be somehow reviewed by the peers of this club to make sure the quality guidelines are met, before the research can be published.

Yet, despite this assurance of quality, the fact is that most of what is considered true today will be discarded as false in the future. “Ninety percent of what you learn in medical school will be out of date and considered obsolete in ten years,” we were told by the dean of students when I began medical school. This means that most of what doctors learn is wrong. It also means that the new information which will come in 10 years to replace and update current misconceptions and errors will also be considered obsolete in another ten years’ time. This is a powerful indictment of medical research, which seems to produce little more than temporary information.

It also means that the peer review process does not assure truth. It only means that current standards of practice are followed. Currently, this allows conflicts of interest, since most drug research is paid for by the companies that produce and profit from those same drugs. Even research testing drug side effect hazards is paid for by the companies standing to lose, big time, if their drugs are proven unsafe. Since drug companies have their bottom line, and not unselfish service to mankind, as their reason for existing, it is extremely unwise to trust them with research into their own products. Researchers take no oaths of honesty or integrity. They work for whoever pays them, and they are not above fudging the results to get the desired outcome.

This is not good science, of course. But it is science as practiced in a culture that has professionalized research into a profit-making enterprise. It is not, as people fantasize, the sacred trust needed for helping the sick and injured with unselfish devotion. Medical research is about making money coming up with newly patented drugs to replace the ones that have just gone off-patent and are being sold too cheaply by generic drug competitors.

Peer review does not stop the conflict of interest. Medical journals accept conflict of interest, knowing that it is the way medical research is done. Knowing what research is coming down the pike allows these insiders to get a whiff of new drug developments before the public knows, so they can change their investment portfolio mix for anticipated stock price adjustments.

Peer review also keeps out alternative theories and ways of doing research. All innovation threatens the status quo, and those who control the peer review process, like Supreme Court Justices, can decide on which cases to hear and which to ignore. They are gatekeepers of the status quo, which keeps the current powers that be in power. Since the medical peer review boards are the culture’s final authority on quality, there is no way to challenge their decisions. The quality of the research may in fact be poor, which is evident when you see how many research articles criticize other, peer reviewed research as being flawed in some way. Any researcher will tell you that lots of bad research is done that gets published. However, it’s a publish or perish world. Since researchers and their peers are all caught in this same publish or perish demand, and review one another’s work, they subtly collude to get as much research as they can funded and published. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. They argue among themselves in the journals as to the quality of their work, and for sure there is some competition among scientists as they solicit grants from the same sources to do pretty much the same thing. But there is overall an understanding that, as peers, united they stand and divided they fall.

Of course, this means that peer review is nothing more than a political arrangement for research workers, like a guild or union. It’s goal is to keep control over their field, suppress the competition, and assure continued cash flow. It has nothing to do with science, the systematic search for truth, which must not be tainted by financial motives or tempted by personal gain.

So the next time you hear a news story about some new wonder drug, look for the union label. If it is peer reviewed, there’s a ninety percent change it’s wrong.

Teaching Christian Religious Education – A Review

In ten chapters or one hundred and eleven pages, the author presents a compendia of methodology of teaching Christian religious education. The purpose of the study, countless misconceptions of students, the etymology of the word ‘methodology’, definition and reason for religious education, kinds of research methods and hints of note taking are discussed in the first chapter. These give students the opportunity of revising when writer rather than presenting new information to them. The importance of the second chapter is that it gives a systematic approach to finding research/project problems, approach to find a research topic, formulating the research topic, sources of information, reviewing relevant literature, sources of information, reviewing relevant literature, hypothesis and format for research writing. Like the first chapter, the dimensions are not new but serve as a useful guide. The Nigerian approach to moral and religious instruction as stated in the 1981 Revised National Policy on education moved from rote memory of biblical passages to affect the psychomotor and affective domains. Approaches to the study of Christian religious education discussed in Chapter 3 include the Bible-centered or salvation history approach, the phenomenological approach, teacher-centered approach, and the Bible to life, life experiences and life-centered approaches. New life was therefore injected in teaching religious education as students discovered the religious implication of their actions.

Working on the premise that there are several teaching methods in each discipline, the writer identifies some methods and factors that determine their suitability and the right time to use them in the fourth chapter. He rightly observes that the Christian religious studies teacher should not be dogmatic but should apply a method as the situation demands. These methods are divided into teacher centered (lecture, questioning), learner centered (project, assignment) and joint (drama, field trips, story telling, role play) methods.

In Chapter 5, the writer successfully defines technical terms like teaching and teaching practice. Parameters used to identify the competency of the teacher are discussed. The section of preparing to teach is in consonance with Hendrick’s law of readiness. The discussion on the management, organization and administration of teaching practice and micro-teaching and its advantages are geared towards enabling the teacher to teach effectively especially if the assessment instruments at the end of the chapter are implemented.

The sixth chapter clearly traces the history of the religious studies curriculum which protects the child from receiving any instruction that is contrary to the wishes of his parents. The origin and objective of the word ‘curriculum’ and the vital role of parents, learners, teachers, local community, religious bodies, ministries of education and other national bodies are discussed. The seventh chapter expands on the discussion in earlier chapters. The sample of a syllabus is a useful reference material to every Christian religious education teacher.

The eighth chapter on lesson plan logically follows the seventh since the classroom experience tests what has been planned. The writer realistically observes that the success of the teacher is dependent on the mastery of the subject and his/her job is incomplete until evaluation is done. The importance of educational objectives, the cognitive, psychomotor and affective domains cannot be overemphasized.

Commenting on the application of teaching materials, the writer observes that a good material among others should relate to the objective and age of the learners, match their ability and elicit interest in them. The penultimate chapter presents a vivid description of the use of instructional materials in teaching. The impact of visual and audiovisual materials is amazing. Although they create an opportunity for students to come face to face with reality, they should be seen as a means to an end.

The last chapter clearly presents justification for moral education in the school in an era of moral decadence. The aim of religious education therefore is to facilitate desirable changes in an individual since it encompasses theoretical, practical, moral, spiritual, human and divine aspects. The entire society – the home, school, church, voluntary organizations, mass media- has a role to play.

Although the book presents a rather interesting evaluation of Christian religious education methods, the author himself admits that he is not trying to offer new dimensions in the first two chapters. Even though he presents a format for research writing, the technical terms are not defined leaving the reader in a difficult position to see the relationship among them. Several typographical errors undermine the richness of the presentation. The above notwithstanding, this illustrative text of the Nigerian educational experience has graphic illustrations and review questions which stimulate critical thinking. A commendable insight is the lucid distinction made between the curriculum and syllabus which are treated as synonymous terms. The clear presentation of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives is also imperative. Perhaps another insight is how the wrong use of textbooks could hinder self-initiative and transforms learning merely into a routine.