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The opinions expressed on this page are mine alone. Any similarities to the views of my employer are completely coincidental.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Getting all the dope

I don't normally do plugs for other people's books or papers: hell, they can blow their own trumpets if they have a mind to. But I am going to make an exception for two pieces of work that have an intellectual connection (of sorts). Firstly Ben Goldacre's new book Bad Pharma: How Drug Companies Mislead Doctors and Harm Patients. Ben's big point is that clinicians and citizens have a right to consider all the evidence - not just the evidence from selected trials the pharmaceuticals  decide it is their interest to let you see - about whether or not a drug works better than/worse than the alternatives or indeed is actually in some circumstances harmful. Despite  assertions to the contrary by richly rewarded PR machines and parliamentary fellow travellers, all trial evidence is not placed in the public domain. Basically there is a systematic pattern of repeated evasion and falsehood which government appears not to want to acknowledge. A parliamentary question was asked today about this  and evinced  the usual amount of misinformation and obfuscation.
On a similar theme you should take a look at this new paper by my colleague John Goldthorpe. If you don't have time for the whole paper you can get the gist of it from this FT blog. This time it is a story of the partial and highly selective use of data which is informing a significant policy area - social mobility. The issue is not that data is being withheld, but that relevant data is being systematically ignored or downplayed because it does not support a dominant ideological belief that social mobility chances have declined while small quantities of undoubtedly relevant, but possibly quite flawed, data are given quite unwarranted prominence. The bulk of the data rather consistently finds that social mobility in the UK has not declined either in absolute or relative terms. From this it does not follow, as  for example Peter Saunder's would have us believe, that we live in a land of meritocratic opportunity (Peter: the direct effect of origin on destination means that some have to show more merit than others to get the rewards): but it does mean that things are not getting worse.

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