Medical research plays a critical role in the development of new treatment protocols. Many people here in Illinois receive medical care based on the latest studies and findings. However, much of this research may be questionable. One study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that up to half of the most respected findings published over a 13-year period were exaggerated or incorrect. This unreliable research can leave patients at risk for incorrect treatment and adverse outcomes.

Examples of inaccurate medical research are numerous. In 1998, a well-known study incorrectly linked autism to certain childhood vaccinations. According to Bloomberg, a later study concluded the vaccination study was fraudulent. More recently, a Harvard biologist authored a fake study, which found that participants who ate chocolate daily were more likely to lose weight. According to The Chicago Tribune, multiple online journals accepted the study, and numerous news sources presented it as reliable.

These inaccurate studies can have severe consequences. For example, after research erroneously suggested bone marrow transplants could treat breast cancer, 40,000 women underwent this procedure. In addition to missing out on more effective treatments, these women were exposed unnecessarily to serious potential complications. As Johns Hopkins School of Medicine explains, bone marrow transplants can cause infections, graft failure and graft-versus host disease. These complications can lead to respiratory issues, organ damage and even death.

Inaccurate medical research isn’t always a product of innocent errors. According to The Chicago Tribune, one study reviewed 2,000 retractions of papers published in prominent medical journals and concluded two-thirds involved fraud. Frequently, this fraud may occur due to conflicts of interest. Pharmaceutical companies or government entities fund most medical research, introducing a potential for bias. As The Atlantic explains, researchers also must produce findings worthy of publication in leading journals to secure funding or advance their careers. Therefore, some researchers may exaggerate, misrepresent or invent results.

The peer review process doesn’t always succeed in catching these lapses. The Chicago Tribune notes that the professionals conducting the reviews often have their own biases or conflicts of interest. Some studies also don’t receive adequate professional review. When these studies are published in mainstream media, journalists may fail to critically assess the research and conclusions.

Fraudulent medical research may represent a growing issue. Since 1975, the number of studies retracted based on fraud has grown tenfold, according to The Chicago Tribune. Widespread changes might be needed to address this issue. Enhanced review and investigation procedures could reduce the publication of flawed research. More careful assessments on the part of journalists could limit the dissemination of inaccurate findings. Until this problem is remedied, however, many patients may suffer needless harm after receiving ineffective or risky treatments.