By Tony Isaacs
Considering his background, Dr. John Ioannidis had good reason to expect that he might become a noted and respected researcher when he first entered the field of medical research. What he did not expect was that he would become known for challenging and exposing the bad science of his peers and finding that up to 80 percent of medical studies results are either wrong or fraudulent.
Ioannidis was unusually well prepared to enter medical research: he had been a math prodigy of near-celebrity status in high school and both of his parents were physician-researchers. He believed he would be able to follow his parents footsteps and use math to better support findings in a surprisingly sloppy field. “I assumed that everything we physicians did was basically right, but now I was going to help verify it,” he said. “All we’d have to do was systematically review the evidence, trust what it told us, and then everything would be perfect.”
It didn’t turn out that way. When he pored over medical journals, Ioannidis was struck by how many findings of all types were later refuted and he was shocked at the range and reach of the reversals in everyday medical research.
Randomized controlled trials, which compare how one group responds to a treatment against how an identical group without the treatment fares, “had long been considered nearly unshakable” said Ioannidis. But they too ended up sometimes being wrong. “I realized even our gold-standard research had a lot of problems.”