Thursday, September 27, 2012

True Believers: Faith and Reason in the Adoption of Evidence

In last week's NEJM, in an editorial response to an article demonstrating that physicians, in essence, probability adjust (a la Expected Utility Theory) the likelihood that data are true based on the funding source of a study, editor-in-Chief Jeffery M. Drazen implored the journal's readership to "believe the data." Unfortunately, he did not answer the obvious question, "which data?" A perusal of the very issue in which his editorial appears, as well as this week's journal, considered in the context of more than a decade of related research demonstrates just how ironic and ludicrous his invocation is.

This November marks the eleventh year since the publication, with great fanfare, of Van den Berghe's trial of intensive insulin therapy (IIT) in the NEJM.  That article was followed by what I have called a "premature rush to adopt the therapy" (I should have called it a stampede), creation of research agendas in multiple countries and institutions devoted to its study, amassing of reams of robust data failing to confirm the original results, and a reluctance to abandon the therapy that is rivaled in its tenacity only by the enthusiasm that drove its adoption.  In light of all the data from the last decade, I am convinced of only one thing - that it remains an open question whether control of hyperglycemia within ANY range is of benefit to patients.
Suffice it to say that the Van den Berghe data have not suffered from lack of believers - the Brunkhorst, NICE-SUGAR, and Glucontrol data have - and  it would seem that in many cases what we have is not a lack of faith so much as a lack of reason when it comes to data.  The publication of an analysis of hypoglycemia using the NICE-SUGAR database in the September 20th NEJM, and a trial in this week's NEJM involving pediatric cardiac surgery patients by by Agus et al gives researchers and clinicians yet another opportunity to apply reason and reconsider their belief in IIT and for that matter the treatment of hyperglycemia in general.