Baby-harming medical research
baby-blinding retinopathy of prematurity
H. Peter Aleff, 2009
by H. Peter Aleff, 2009
The misleading myth of self-correction in science
The popular belief in science as a superior way of knowing rests on the often asserted claim that science alone has a built-in and fail-safe mechanism of self-correction, and on the wishful thinking of the believers that this postulated mechanism actually works. This belief may well turn out to be true over time spans like that for replacing Ptolemaic astronomy with the Copernican system, but you cannot trust that fake research will get found out and fixed in just a few years or at most decades.
Self-correction may work reasonably well in fields of science where experiments can usually be repeated, such as in physics or chemistry, and methods refined, as in astronomy and geology (where it took only half a century for Wegener's theory of Continental Drift to get accepted), or where the logic and consistency of theories and proofs is subject to unrelenting open scrutiny, as in cosmology and mathematics.
In medical research, however, time and again the very real and traditional mechanisms for the preservation of errors trump those more elusive ones for their self-correction, despite some recent attempts to make medicine now allegedly "evidence-based" (even though it was supposed to have been based on scientific evidence all along).
Medical evidence is difficult to verify and validate because it is easy to fake or cloak data from clinical trials. These are reported under the honor system, and peer reviewers or readers are unlikely to catch clever manipulations or fudging. The potential for introducing flawed data into the doctrine is therefore high.
On the other hand, it is expensive and unglamorous to replicate major studies that have already convinced their audience. Furthermore, funds for such replications are unlikely to be approved if the grant applications propose to invalidate a widely held and long entrenched belief at the core of the bedrock doctrine and to thereby expose many of its followers to embarrassments and perhaps even liabilities. The probability of detecting flaws in the data behind the doctrine is therefore low.
Although study authors usually point out that the reported results are preliminary and add the ritual refrain that more research is needed, these results can quickly enter the doctrine without any of the caveats the authors may have wrapped around their conclusions. Instead of verifying trial results with the repeated replications the myth of self-correction prescribes, many doctors have no choice but to accept those results based on their faith in the honesty and academic authority of those who assert them. Their need to trust the teachings of their profession may bias some of them towards that acceptance even when those assertions appear clearly unsupported to the few critics who examine them closely.
Medical students and doctors have also a vested interest to believe in this research because it forms the basis of their guild's reputation and its claims to be scientific. After spending much time and money to acquire their medical degree, many will be loath to explore whether parts of their valued doctrine and livelihood could be built on errors or even frauds.
In addition, the mandates of "medical ethics" discourage the voicing of such doubts which could easily become career suicide. Some medical anthropologists have noted that all the systems of medical ethics they studied from different periods and places are simply
This mechanism of guild protection by message discipline makes it difficult for any member to openly state that they and their colleagues have been duped and misled for many decades by a plainly fraud-based false doctrine that made them cause unnecessary severe and permanent harm to innumerable patients. Such glasnost would tarnish the image of medicine as responsible and scientific which they and their guild strive to polish.
The examples of manipulated trials documented on this website illustrate how this medical solidarity against incriminating evidence works in the medical approach to premature babies. Some nursery doctors like to proudly show off these most vulnerable and defenseless of all patients as "miracle babies" while carelessly causing many of them to go blind.
A look at the eyes of a patient often reveals to an experienced practitioner the symptoms of many diseases in other parts of the body, from the easily spotted jaundice to any of the other 18 disease groups Wikipedia lists as "systemic diseases with ocular manifestations". Similarly, a look at what doctors do to the eyes of preemies reveals a number of systemic wrongs that affect many areas of medicine.
In 1940, an epidemic of severe eye damage and even complete destruction of their retinae began to afflict premature babies in the US. Already the discoverer of that eye damage, which is now called retinopathy of prematurity, had suggested right away light as the most probable cause of this damage affecting the most light-sensitive organ, but some more prominent eye doctors asserted that the quickly spreading baby-blinding was rather caused by "defective germ plasm".
These ophthalmologists had studied medicine during the heyday of the once highly praised pseudoscience of eugenics. For the first half of the twentieth century and in some cases even beyond, eugenics represented in medical circles the cutting edge of scientific progress. During and after World War II, this alleged method for improving the human species became widely discredited among lay people as they learned about the horrors to which the application of eugenics had led in Nazi Germany.
However, doctors often tend to stick with the teachings they absorbed during their study years. Indeed, those old-school eye doctors still talked in the late 1940s among themselves about "not preserving these defective persons of which the world has already too many". They knew they could not openly implement the euthanasia program they advocated to weed out this defect. They disguised therefore their agenda in a textbook example of crypto-eugenics by rigging a multi-hospital trial, held in 1954/55, to systematically eliminate these "defective" preemies.
Knowing that the babies most at risk for the blinding
were also those with the most immature lungs, they withheld the
life-saving oxygen breathing help from all preemies in their study
for the first two days so that those among them with the worst
breathing problems died. Then they enrolled only the survivors who
predictably were not much affected by the blinding.
The often repeated mantra of believers in the alleged safeguards of the scientific method asserts that scientific findings are not accepted until they have been replicated and thoroughly validated. However, the oxygen withholding doctrine spread immediately around the world, unchecked and unreplicated and even unexamined. This hidden euthanasia program to rid the world of blindness-causing germ plasm killed tens of thousands of preemies to save them from having to grow up blind.
By the late 1960s, as the culture had become generally more permissive, nursery doctors followed the trend and began to slightly ease the previously Draconian restrictions on oxygen supplementation. However, a milder form of this initially radical oxygen rationing continues today and still harms many preemies. Many of these suffer permanent brain damage from the oxygen deprivation, and some of them still die because their doctors don't allow them enough of the life-saving gas.
This legacy of crypto-euthanasia smuggled into the doctrine persists in intensive care nurseries around the world, below even most doctors' radar but right under their noses. It is a striking contrast to the showy fights which some hospitals and their lawyers put up to keep artificial life support going for hopelessly vegetative patients while doctors withhold life-saving breathing help from preemies.
The contrast is even more surreal when you compare this routine asphyxiation of real babies all over the country with many people's passionate and uncompromising rhetoric about protecting the right to life of the unborn all the way back to embryonic stem cells. Unfortunately for preemies, their leaving the womb voids all those so loudly asserted rights.
Because the researchers in the bogus
oxygen trial had
concealed the eugenic
roots and goal of their lethal doctrine, today's
nursery doctors withhold that breathing help
with good intentions and without being aware of the devious reasons
for introducing it. This doctrine is now so firmly entrenched in all modern intensive care nurseries that
oxygen management typically accounts for a third or so of their
profitable billings. And that mythical self-correction
mechanism of science is still nowhere in sight.
Many animal studies confirmed that light like that from the nursery
lamps inflicted much retinal damage, and a trial in two Washington,
D.C., hospitals reduced the overall incidence
of severe ROP from 86 to 54 per cent by shading the babies'
isolettes, with a probability of almost nineteen in twenty that this
reduction was related to the shading and not a random event.
Unfortunately, the mathematical correlation fell
just slightly short of that magical 95%
probability which doctors are trained to view as the
so-called statistical significance level to be met when evaluating
the efficacy of a treatment.
And unfortunately again, the study authors had
shading a treatment instead of what it really was: a reduction in
dosage of the strong irradiation treatment they
had been administering indiscriminately
to all the babies under the standard fluorescent ceiling lights. They failed to
realize that the safety of the needless
treatment with light, not the efficacy of its partial
withdrawal, was the real issue.
In safety assessments, one does not wait for
harmful effects to reach an arbitrary level of "statistical
significance" to recognize them as a problem. Safety
professionals take even a weak association with harm as a danger
signal. And no sane parents would willingly expose their baby to
those lamps if they knew there were almost 19 chances out of 20 that
this light could damage her or his eyes. But their baby’s doctors
don’t inform them about that danger because from their inverted
group-think perspective they don’t see that risk as significant.
Unfortunately, the mathematical correlation fell just slightly short of that magical 95% probability which doctors are trained to view as the so-called statistical significance level to be met when evaluating the efficacy of a treatment. And unfortunately again, the study authors had called the shading a treatment instead of what it really was: a reduction in dosage of the strong irradiation treatment they had been administering indiscriminately all along to all the babies under the standard fluorescent ceiling lights. They failed to realize that the safety of the needless treatment with light, not the efficacy of its partial withdrawal, was the real issue.
In safety assessments, one does not wait for harmful effects to reach an arbitrary level of "statistical significance" to recognize them as a problem. Safety professionals take even a weak association with harm as a danger signal. And no sane parents would willingly expose their baby to those lamps if they knew there were almost 19 chances out of 20 that this light could damage her or his eyes. But their baby’s doctors don’t inform them about that danger because from their inverted group-think perspective they don’t see that risk as significant.
Admitting this gross iatrogenic blunder would be a blow to the reputation of the medical profession and could lead to major legal and financial liabilities. So, instead of facing the facts as scientists are supposed to do, some pediatric retinal surgeons rigged another study in the mid 1990s to falsely "prove" the innocence of the nursery lighting in the blinding and thereby to continue the baby-blinding epidemic which supplies a steady stream of customers for pediatric retinal surgery.
Knowing that the photochemical damage they pretended to study accumulates in a matter of a few minutes to eye-harming levels, these researchers left all the preemies fully exposed to the bright lights for the first 24 hours before they patched the eyes of their allegedly "protected" group. Then, in direct violation of every principle of "medical ethics" about protecting patients and doing no harm, they forbade the nurses and parents to protect any of the babies with the usual blankets spread over their incubators. They openly claimed they wanted to "maximize the contrast" between their groups by so exposing the unprotected babies to as much of the harmful radiation as possible. Yet, none of the alleged ethics watchdogs and protectors of patients' rights voiced any objection to this use of human children as disposable guinea pigs.
Predictably again, these willfully
misleading researchers found no
difference in the blinding rates and so "ruled out" light as a
factor. The prestigious New England Journal of Medicine
published these fake results although its
editors had been alerted to the transparent subterfuge in the
study design and to the blatant ethics violations.
These routinely denied but never refuted facts show how so-called "science" works in the real world, never mind the edifying tales for the gullible about truth-seeking and self-correction. Some scientists embellish or slant their data to better "prove" what they "know" deep down to be right even if their raw data does "not yet" support it clearly enough. They may think that they are only helping to make the "truth" of their case appear more obvious, particularly to the doubters who might otherwise raise questions about some weakness in the data, but the fudgers are violating the very concept of scientific integrity and thereby ultimately undermining any thinking persons' faith in science.
As long as the scientific community tolerates blatant research frauds like those described above and does not quickly move to correct them, the credibility of all scientists and of their science will be tainted. Outsiders have no way to tell which ones are honest and which ones only use the mantle of science to hide frauds in bogus research, so the entire batch becomes suspect when even just one fly remains stuck in the ointment.
Moreover, the US government agencies that are supposed to protect patients from medical abuses and to assure the integrity of medical research are mostly staffed with medical doctors and help with the cover-up of patient-harming research frauds instead of exposing and ending them.
Medical ethicists turn their back to the babies and find nothing wrong with the abuses to which these are subjected. They prefer to argue endlessly with their equally indifferent religious counterparts about the rights of fertilized eggs and clumps of embryonic cells but ignore the rights of real babies once these are born.
The American legal system does not help either but often makes the situation worse. The fear of medical malpractice suits is a major incentive for doctors to circle their wagons and avoid any admission of wrongdoing. The lawyers, on the other hand, can only prove malpractice if they show that a doctor violated accepted medical practice. Regardless how plainly wrong that accepted practice may be, lawyers have no legal standing to question the alleged science behind a mainstream medical practice unless they find enough big-name medical expert witnesses who are willing to speak up against the official medical doctrine and to thereby kill their careers.
For an account of how the current medical denials of well-documented research frauds prevent a rational approach to the current mistreatment of preemies and their eyes, continue reading
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