Medical research is all about hard facts and statistics, but historically — and increasingly today — there is a lot of disinformation out there.
What medical professionals should do about this problem is the focus of Tuesday’s Paul Dudley White International Lecture presented by Sir Rory Collins, professor of medicine and epidemiology at the Clinical Trial Service Unit at the University of Oxford.
“The failure of the medical community, including medical journals and medical regulators, to act fast enough and robustly enough has left a long-term effect on public health,” said Collins, who will deliver his lecture, “Post-Truth Medicine: Death and Disability by Disinformation,” at 2 p.m. in room 303AB, Main Building.
One of the most well-known examples of disinformation in medicine was the false link between the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and an increased risk for young children developing autism, Collins said. This disinformation led to substantially decreased immunization rates, the loss of herd immunity and increases in measles cases in Britain and the United States, he said.
Collins also will discuss statin therapy and claims of large differences in the risk of side effects based on whether one looks at observational studies or randomized clinical trials. In observational studies, where researchers assess reports among people who know they are taking a statin, claims have been made that up to 20 percent of people experience side effects. In contrast, there’s a lack of increase in symptomatic side effects among people in randomized blinded trials, where people do not know whether they are taking statins or placebo.
Collins’ lecture honors Paul Dudley White, who is widely regarded as the founder of preventive cardiology. White helped found the Boston Society for the Prevention and Relief of Heart Disease (now the Greater Boston Division of the American Heart Association). He joined forces with similar groups in New York City and Philadelphia, and in 1924 became one of the founders of the AHA. He served as AHA president in 1941.