John Carlisle, a medical researcher, has uncovered a distressingly high rate of flawed or fraudulent clinical trials being published in medical journals. Reviewing data from over 500 randomized controlled trials (RCTs), he found 44% included questionable data, with 26% being so problematic that they were deemed “zombie” trials. Without access to individual data, these flawed trials are difficult to detect and often inadvertently included in meta-analyses and systematic reviews, leading to erroneous treatment guidelines. Women’s health, pain, and COVID-19 are among the fields heavily impacted.
The scale of this issue and the best methods for screening remain debated topics. Initiatives have been launched to identify implausible or inconsistent trial data, but there are concerns about potential harm to reputations and the risk of excluding valid research. A majority of experts recommend requiring individual participant data to detect inconsistencies, but this is not yet standard practice. Publishers’ slow response times to flagged issues also contribute to the problem.
Likely driven by misguided academic incentives and insufficient oversight, the potential crisis of unreliable medical research calls for immediate action. The full extent of the problem remains unknown, and the development and application of screening methods to detect and remove flawed trials are still uneven. (Nature)
The forthcoming movie about J. Robert Oppenheimer and the creation of the atomic bomb is predicted to be a blockbuster. However, critics argue it overlooks the serious impacts of the Manhattan Project on local communities, particularly those downwind from the New Mexico test site. These communities, or “downwinders,” have long reported health effects, including increased cancer rates, which they attribute to radiation exposure. Tina Cordova, a cancer survivor and founder of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium, has expressed disappointment that the movie doesn’t reflect on the sacrifices made by New Mexicans. Advocacy groups have been seeking recognition and justice for the affected people for years, but their plight remains largely unrecognized by the U.S. government and now by the film’s producers. On the 78th anniversary of the Trinity Test, vigils were held in New Mexico and New York City to show support for the impacted residents. Critics of the film argue that a comprehensive conversation about Oppenheimer’s legacy should include reckoning with the human cost of nuclear weapons. (Associated Press)
India plans to establish a National Research Foundation (NRF) to increase research across its numerous educational and scientific institutions. The NRF, with a proposed budget of $6 billion over five years, aims to bolster collaboration between academia, industry, and government. Funding is expected to come predominantly from the private sector, with the government covering the remainder. Legislation to establish the NRF will be introduced in Parliament soon. If approved, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will serve as its president. The NRF’s success will depend on its governance, and details on its operational strategies are currently unavailable. India’s research and development spending is significantly lower than that of other large economies. The NRF is seen as a way to build research capacity across India’s academic centers, instead of concentrating support on a select few already conducting research. (Nature)
Astronomers have discovered the coldest star yet recorded to emit radio waves, an ultracool brown dwarf known as T8 Dwarf WISE J062309.94−045624.6. At 797 degrees Fahrenheit, it is significantly cooler than a campfire. While not the coldest star ever found, it is the coolest to be observed with radio astronomy. Brown dwarfs are typically larger than gas giants but too small for nuclear fusion. This dwarf is estimated to be 65% to 95% the size of Jupiter but up to 44 times denser. The team believes the star’s radio waves may be due to electrons flowing to the star’s magnetic polar region. The discovery was facilitated by the CSIRO ASKAP telescope in Australia and the MeerKAT telescope in South Africa. This unusual finding offers new insights into stellar evolution and the potential habitability of exoplanet systems. (PopSci)
NASA’s Psyche spacecraft is undergoing final preparations at Cape Canaveral for its October 5 launch. It will embark on a 2.5 billion-mile journey to the asteroid Psyche, offering unique insights into planetary cores and planetary formation. The launch, originally planned for 2022, was delayed due to software issues, which have now been resolved. The spacecraft will launch atop a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, marking the rocket’s first interplanetary launch. Once it arrives at the asteroid, located in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, it will spend over two years gathering images and data. The current focus of the team is to finalize mechanical details and prepare for operations, which include completing the spacecraft’s assembly and thermal blanketing, testing the solar array deployment, and loading 2,392 pounds of xenon propellant. Psyche is the 14th mission selected as part of NASA’s Discovery Program. (NASA)
A fossil discovered in northern China provides intriguing evidence of a mammal preying on a dinosaur some 125 million years ago. Unearthed in 2012, the fossil shows a furry mammal about the size of a badger and a scaly dinosaur three times larger locked in combat, preserved in a moment of volcanic eruption. This finding, reported in Scientific Reports, challenges the common belief that early mammals lived in the shadows of their dinosaur contemporaries. The site of the find, the Lujiatun beds in Liaoning province, is famous for preserving thousands of animals killed by massive volcanic eruptions. Paleontologists argue that the mammal, a Repenomamus robustus, was the aggressor, indicating a struggle rather than scavenging. This finding hints at the future domination of mammals after the dinosaurs’ extinction. However, due to instances of attempted fossil forgery in the region, some experts remain cautious about the fossil’s authenticity and call for further investigation. The original researchers counter that the sediments surrounding the fossil match those from the fossil bed, and the teeth clamped onto the dinosaur’s ribs indicate a legitimate find. (Science)
Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.
WORDS: The Biology Guy. (@thebiologyguy)
IMAGE CREDIT: Han Gang.