Series: David Sackett – A Year Later| Volume 73, P82-86, May 2016

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Evidence-based medicine has been hijacked: a report to David Sackett

  • John P.A. Ioannidis
    Corresponding author. 1265 Welch Rd, MSOB X306, Stanford, CA 94305, USA. Tel.: 650-7236147.
    Department of Medicine, Stanford Prevention Research Center, Stanford, CA 94305, USA

    Department of Health Research and Policy, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA 94305, USA

    Department of Statistics, Stanford University School of Humanities and Sciences, Stanford, CA 94305, USA

    Meta-Research Innovation Center at Stanford (METRICS), Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA
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Published:February 28, 2016DOI:


      This is a confession building on a conversation with David Sackett in 2004 when I shared with him some personal adventures in evidence-based medicine (EBM), the movement that he had spearheaded. The narrative is expanded with what ensued in the subsequent 12 years. EBM has become far more recognized and adopted in many places, but not everywhere, for example, it never acquired much influence in the USA. As EBM became more influential, it was also hijacked to serve agendas different from what it originally aimed for. Influential randomized trials are largely done by and for the benefit of the industry. Meta-analyses and guidelines have become a factory, mostly also serving vested interests. National and federal research funds are funneled almost exclusively to research with little relevance to health outcomes. We have supported the growth of principal investigators who excel primarily as managers absorbing more money. Diagnosis and prognosis research and efforts to individualize treatment have fueled recurrent spurious promises. Risk factor epidemiology has excelled in salami-sliced data-dredged articles with gift authorship and has become adept to dictating policy from spurious evidence. Under market pressure, clinical medicine has been transformed to finance-based medicine. In many places, medicine and health care are wasting societal resources and becoming a threat to human well-being. Science denialism and quacks are also flourishing and leading more people astray in their life choices, including health. EBM still remains an unmet goal, worthy to be attained.
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