Drug companies as whistleblowers

Some years ago, John Ioannidis warned that most published research findings probably are false.

More recently, the drug companies Bayer and Amgen reported that their attempts to replicate scientifically published studies that could be a basis for new drug development most often fail. Amgen, for example, failed to replicate 47 of 53 oncology and hematology results that they initially deemed interesting for their purposes.

We are used to seeing drug companies under attack by right-minded critics. Now they are in the position of delivering the critique. They invalidate most scientifically published findings in the field of medicine. By going public about this embarrassing fact, they act as whistleblowers revealing emptiness in current scientific practices and ways of supporting and awarding high quality research.

A solution to the problem is now being proposed, though not by the research community, but by a company: Science Exchange. They offer researchers a new service. For a fee, they attempt to reproduce the researchers’ studies. If the studies can be successfully replicated, the company issues a certificate of reproducibility.

Can such a proposal contribute to a transformation of current scientific practices, towards an order where peers not merely read and assess papers, but practically try to validate results?

But shouldn’t validation be internal to the research work, rather than outsourced?

If I interpret Karl Popper right, a scientist should actively try to achieve negative results. Only by failing to produce negative results can she tentatively claim positive results.

Do current ways of measuring and awarding scientific quality undermine the self-critical spirit of scientific work?

Pär Segerdahl

Following the news - the ethics blog

2 Responses to Drug companies as whistleblowers

  1. […] week I wrote about the significance of negative results in science. This week I saw one of the saddest documentaries I’ve ever seen, featuring the tragic […]

  2. […] wrote a while ago about drug companies as whistle blowers. Evidently, the pharmaceutical industry wastes more and more resources unsuccessfully trying to […]

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