The Gambler’s Delusion And Anti-Depressants

The first time I ever remember hearing about gambling was when I was given a Christmas present bought from a year’s worth of horse race winnings.

Later my parents explained to me that they were going along with the gift to please the person who gave it, but that the “winnings” weren’t actually that.

Basically there was a bank account specifically for the winnings, but any loses were not taken out, and neither were the original stakes.

So every Christmas it seemed like there had been a successful year.

Even “professional” gamblers don’t like to answer the question of how much money (or time and effort) it took to get the winnings they talk about.

However this bias doesn’t just apply to gambling.

It applies in scientific research as well.

The most recent publication from the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine (NJEM) includes a paper titled: “Selective Publication of Antidepressant Trials and Its Influence on Apparent Efficacy”

The idea is that pharmaceutical companies are finding ways to hide or ignore research that doesn’t show their drugs are great.

This is nothing new.

Promote the good studies, downplay the bad ones.

Tobacco companies have been repeatedly accused of this type of publication bias. If they don’t like the results of a study, then it can be simpler to just never publish it.

The public is none the wiser.

However researchers have been honing in on this problem over the past few years.

This particular piece of research from the NEJM is very nice.

The researchers found that 37 out of 38 positive studies were published, but pf another 36 negative studies, 22 were not published, and at least 11 of the remaining 14 presented a negative study as a positive one.

All of the 12 different anti-depressants drugs from 7 different drug companies were helped by this positive bias.

Some of the drugs seem to be over 200% better than they would be if the negative studies had been included. This is not a trivial error.

The evidence suggests massive and systematic bias, but is it self-delusion like a gambler, or cynical manipulation?

Either way I don’t suggest anyone rely on anti-depressants to create their happiness.

This research paper even triggered a well-written article in The Wall Street Journal so I’m sure there will be much more to come on this issue.

-Dr Martin Russell

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