ICBioethics Blog 

Retracted Scientific Studies and What that Means for the Consumer

Written by: Leah Jeunnette, Ph.D.(c)

With the celebration of a new year, it is easy to get nostalgic for the past and hopeful for the future.  There are always lists of the best and worst of the year.  One list that caught my attention, was a list of retracted science studies from 2012.  Most of these retracted studies do not get the same media attention that the original study garnered.  There are two studies that originally made headlines several years ago, but in 2012 were retracted.

The first study, was a study published in 2008 that link cellphone use and sperm count.  The study showed a lowered sperm count and changes to testicles in rabbits.  This study made headlines with serious news outlets reporting that men should no longer carry their cellphones in the front pocket for fear of lowering sperm count.  In March 2012, two co-authors retracted the paper and cited a lack of evidence.

The second study, was conducted by a scientist claiming to have cured a patient with a terminal heart failure using iPS stem cells.  However, his claim quickly was refuted by the very institutions that he claimed to have collaborated with – Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.  Instead of providing scientific data, it has become a game of he said, she said between all the parties involved.  However, the idea that stem cells could cure a disease continue to be reported, even though the science has not been proven true.

The two studies gained notoriety and media attention quickly, but were given the same attention when retracted.  So how is the consumer supposed to know what scientific studies to trust and what to be skeptical of, especially if it can takes years before a retraction is published?  Remain skeptical; trust you own primary care physician for your own personal healthcare; andunderstand that good science is reproducible.  That means multiple studies, over time and from different researchers have proven the sameconsistent results.  It is important to continue to ask questions and seek out information.  With the amazing resource of the internet at our fingertips, studies can be forged, faked, and altered easily.  However, they can also be retracted and addressed head on for the problems in the study.

So as we move forward in 2013, keep in mind that the studies you hear may be the newest or greatest breakthrough in science, but it also might be a false study soon to be retracted.

Mitch GennusoComment