medical study flawsIn this article PsychCentral founder Dr. John Grohol does a cogent analysis of an article in The Atlantic which examines the prevalence of flaws in medical studies.

It brought to mind our belief that the “truth” about mental illness and addiction seems to shift every few years, depending on the direction of current societal trends.

In August we asked readers to vote on whether they believed addiction to be a moral failing, a disease, or both. As someone who has worked in addiction since I have been involved in the mental health field, I can say that the tide turns every so often.

It isn’t a far stretch to say that the flip-flops seem to be tied to cultural trends. However, I stand by the disease model as the numbers show that people get off drugs and alcohol and seem to stay off them when treatment modalities are largely based on this model (That’s not to say that addressing other issues, including ethical and moral issues, isn’t a part of effective treatment).

The most obviously flawed studies, or at least the ones easiest to spot for most thinking people, are probably those studies released during election weeks (and those cleverly-timed book releases), in which, depending on the bias of the researcher, Liberals or Conservatives or Democrats or Republicans are “proven” to be immature fantasists, simmering stews of latent hatred and intolerance, or possessors of below-average intelligence (or all three).

How much do you want to bet that the people putting together the studies belong to the party proven to be made up of the “superior party’s” people? There are flawed people (and definitely no perfect people), who hold all kinds of political beliefs.

If we apply these eagle-eye analysis abilities to medical studies as well, we’d find that the bias is often there, too, just below the surface. We need to ask: What does the researcher have to gain from a particular outcome? Unfortunately, in medical studies, the answer isn’t always so clear cut–medical device makers and pharmaceutical companies aren’t the only ones with vested interests.

How can we tell if a study is worth its salt? PsychCentral has posted a primer referred to in Dr. Grohol’s article. Also, remember: No institution and no individual, in either the public or private sectors, are without their biases. There are funding battles, politics, personal egos and careers at stake.

But if they are conducted by committed scientists, dedicated to the truth, even if it conflicts with their agenda, then well-conducted studies can be reliable. Many, and we believe even most scientists are passionate about truth. Sussing them out just takes a bit of dedication. And that ability to ferret out the truth that we call “cheat smarts.”



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    Last reviewed: 21 Oct 2010

APA Reference
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2010). Are You Being Lied To? Develop Your “Cheat Smarts”. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 31, 2015, from


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