85416075 © Vadymvdrobot | Dreamstime.com
Dreamstime Xs 85416075 64ca545f476d5

In brief: The prevalence and danger of "zombie trials" in clinical research

Aug. 2, 2023
Learn about the "surprising prevalence" of faulty clinical trials; the "fundamental changes" needed in dentistry in the UK; and more.
Elizabeth S. Leaver, Digital content manager

The prevalence of “zombie trials” in clinical research

How many clinical studies are faked or flawed? John Carlisle, editor of the journal Anesthesia, who researched the topic extensively, was “surprised at their prevalence” of some 500 trials he analyzed over three years: up to 44% of the trials submitted to the journal that reported a randomized controlled trial (RCT) with data that contained “impossible statistics, incorrect calculations, or duplicated numbers or figures, for instance … And 26% of the papers had problems that were so widespread that the trial was impossible to trust.” Carlisle deemed such faulty submissions “zombie” trials because “they had the semblance of real research, but closer scrutiny showed they were actually hollow shells, masquerading as reliable information,” according to Nature.

The issue runs much deeper than just cheating or cutting corners: They not only are about interventions, but also can be “laundered into respectability” by being included in meta-analyses and systematic reviews—later serving as assessments health professionals look toward when deciding how to treat patients.

Carlisle's work was focused on anesthesiology, and the Nature article didn't call out dentistry specifically for faulty research. However, the article does note the "frighteningly widespread" nature of fake or unreliable trials: For years, a number of scientists, physicians, and data sleuths have ... scoured RCTs in various medical fields, such as women's health, pain research, anesthesiology, bone health, and COVID-19, and have found dozens or hundreds of trials with seemingly statistically impossible data.

CMS proposes new dental codes for ambulatory services

Becker’s reports that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is proposing to add new dental codes for hospital outpatient and ambulatory surgical center (ASC) services, noting that assigning additional dental codes will “result in greater consistency in Medicare payments for different sites of service and ensure access to outpatient dental services.” The final rule will be issued in November.

“Fundamental changes” needed for NHS dentistry

In the UK, the effects of a widespread shortage of dental care providers continue to plague substantial areas of the country. A recent report deemed the number of patients unable to see an NHS dentist “totally unacceptable in the 21st century,” with May data from the British Dental Association (BDA) indicating the number of NHS dentists is the lowest in more than a decade, and up to 90% of practices aren’t accepting new NHS patients. The report concluded that “fundamental changes were vital” for people to get necessary dental care.

New COVID variant on the rise

The WHO has added Omicron EG.5 to its list to monitor following a worldwide rise since the end of May. EG.5 currently makes up some 11.4% of US COVID cases; the WHO reports that there is no evidence suggesting it increases hospitalizations or death rates.

About the Author

Elizabeth S. Leaver | Digital content manager

Elizabeth S. Leaver is the digital content manager for Endeavor Business Media's dental group. She has a degree in journalism from Northeastern University in Boston and many years of experience working in niche industries specializing in creating content, editing, content marketing, and publishing digital and magazine content. She lives in the Boston area; you can reach her at [email protected].