Science fact or science fiction?

Posted: Thursday 05 July 2018

Many false or exaggerated claims are made about treatments for AMD. How can you spot those which are too good to be true?

Professor Norman Waugh from Warwick Medical School shares his six tips.

1. Look for a proper clinical trial

Trials should include:

• a control group that didn’t get the treatment, so that results from the group getting the new treatment can be compared with people getting nothing at all, or getting the best current treatment

• people being randomly assigned to the treatment or control group, so that people with the best chance of doing well are not unfairly selected to test the new treatment

• a final analysis based on all people randomised to each arm, not just those who made it to the end. For example, if people who got side-effects dropped out of a trial, and were not included in the analysis, it would give a misleadingly good result.

The researchers doing the final assessment should not know which treatment people got. Always look to see who funded the trial too: many are designed, run and analysed by the drug companies or device manufacturers because they need evidence to get the drug or device approved.

2. Check if it’s too good to be true

If the treatment is claimed to cure or help lots of diseases, be very suspicious.

3. See what other experts are saying about it

Check to see whether the trial was published in a proper journal that uses “peer review”: an assessment by people who know the field. Unfortunately there are a lot of pseudo-journals that claim to use peer review but don’t really – they will publish anything for a fee. Some have impressive sounding names. One way of checking journals is to see if they are indexed in PubMed.

Some trials are never published in full