The importance of negative trials

August 12th, 2010 by gelenberg Leave a reply »

An op-ed in the 23 July, 2010 Washington Post points out that doctors can learn a great deal from negative clinical trials. They teach us what doesn’t work.

I recall theories and preliminary clinical impressions in the 1970s that dialysis could cure schizophrenia. The NIMH sponsored studies. Dialysis didn’t work. Great. That saved patients discomfort and risks, families disappointment, and everybody a lot of money.

Some psychiatrists thought gabapentin could treat mania. It couldn’t. Negative studies are important.

I have edited the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry for 23 years. If a negative study is rigorous, well conducted, and with sufficient statistical power, we’ll publish it. Let’s learn what works. And what doesn’t—so we won’t waste resources and subject patients to potential harm unnecessarily.

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