The open data movement has garnered some powerful supporters. The leading British Medical Journal (BMJ) has launched an open data campaign, motivated largely in response to the pharmaceutical industry’s long-standing history of publishing only those clinical trials that positively reflect their products. Neither raw data nor contrary clinical trials data are accessible. Physicians make clinical decisions based on published research. If only the positive findings are published, then their decisions are obviously skewed in favor of specific medications, products or procedures. This skewed presentation of favorable research trickles down into every aspect of healthcare. It costs money and more importantly, it costs lives.
Even something as simple as dietary guidelines for healthy living are affected by publication bias. Case and point, as part of their open data campaign, BMJ gained access to the Sydney Diet Heart Study – a randomized controlled trial conducted from 1966 to 1973 that led to dietary guidelines for men with cardiovascular disease (as is commonly the case, women were not studied) .
As a result of the published data from the Sydney Study, physicians and heart associations around the world recommended the use of dietary vegetable oils instead of saturated fats. The primary component of vegetable oils are omega-6 polyunsaturated vegetable fats (PUFAs) specifically, omega-6 linoleic acid.
It turns out, that when all data from the study were re-analyzed, this wasn’t such a good recommendation. In fact, men who followed the recommended dietary guidelines and ate more vegetable oils, margarines instead of other dietary fats had a much higher risk of death from all causes, including cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease, compared the group who continued with their previous diets.
However, alternative medicine and natural health organizations have been reporting on the dangers of too much omega-6 for decades. And certainly, anyone with an understanding of basic biochemistry can look past the trials data and surmise that something is off. A quick dive into the pharmacokinetics and dynamics of foods high in omega-6’s and the cocktail of other artificial ingredients should give anyone pause – even without access to the trial data.
Nevertheless, the need for open data has reached a critical point. As the open data movement gains steam, more and more studies like this will contradict long held beliefs. Let’s hope this open data becomes a reality sooner rather than later.