A disturbing new study has found that just one in 10 medical treatments are supported by high-quality evidence, greatly undermining academic medical research for years if not decades to come.

Published in the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology on Tuesday, a new study led by Jeremy Howick, director of the Oxford Empathy Programme, examined 154 systematic treatment reviews published between 2015 and 2019. 

Alarmingly, Howick and his fellow researchers found that just 15 (9.9 percent) had high-quality evidence according to the gold-standard method GRADE (grading of recommendations, assessment, development and evaluation).

Some 37 percent had moderate evidence, 31 percent had low, and 22 percent had very low-quality evidence backing their suggested course of action. 

These startling findings reinforce a now decades-old concern about medical academia, which is trending towards lower quality research. 

Indeed, this very trend may propagate a vicious circle, undermining future research based upon poorly supported evidence from previous trials which do not stand up to proper standards of scrutiny. 

While some in the scientific community argue the gold standard is too strict to be useful in the first place, something the researchers concede is possible in limited circumstances, the new study may merely be a reflection of the dilution of the research pool through the publication of too many poor quality trials.

The research team, like many of their peers, decry the ‘publish or perish’ mentality pervasive in medical academic literature.

They use PubMed, a database of references and abstracts of medical literature created by the National Library of Medicine, as an example.  

PubMed now publishes at a rate of roughly 30 new trials per day or 12,000 per year. There are now also too many systematic reviews to synthesize all of these trials, with 2,000 published per year in PubMed alone. Again, simply a matter of too much information, with little emphasis placed on quality control. 

Howick and his co-authors once again highlight the urgent need for the quality, not the quantity of research, to improve. They argue that there is currently no evidence that the quality of research has improved in the last 30 years. 

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