Science blog
Map of the universe years in the making
Rogue bug may cause IVF failure
Technology decodes Alhambra inscriptions
Sonar causes deafness in dolphins
GM stem cells treat autoimmune disease
Nickel crash kick-started evolution
GPS inhalers track asthma triggers
Urban design turning kids off being active
Cleaning up oil spills can be bad for fish
Fluoro sensors to monitor recycled water
First cloned camel born in Dubai
Cephalopods share common toxic armoury
New evidence of aspirin risk for elderly
Salmonella vaccine could come from space
Porpoise-like sub swims with the current
Microbes thrive on iron under the ice
Blinking tower lights could save birds
Tradition can curb climate change: meeting
Coolest brown dwarf in universe found
'Silent' heart attacks quite common: study
World's land slipping in quality
Warning over 'natural' menopause therapies
Complex life pushed back in time
Lice may suppress asthma, allergies
  Dud treatments more easily spread
Ineffective treatments are more likely to spread than effective ones because they are used for a longer period of time, say Australian and UK researchers.

Dr Mark Tanaka of the University of New South Wales and colleagues report their findings in a recent issue of PLoS ONE.

"We show that the treatments that spread are not necessarily those that are most efficacious at curing the ailment," the researchers say.

Even where there is a lot of evidence available on treatments, people are not necessarily able to get access to this immediately, says Tanaka, who models biological systems.

"Instead of asking the question of whether particular treatments were working or not working, we were interested to ask under what conditions would any treatment spread in a population," says Tanaka.

He and colleagues used mathematical modelling of what is called "social learning", where people see others using a treatment and copy them, as happens in the animal world.

"If you look at chimp populations they often observe each other and pick up new ways of doing things such as eating rough leaves that get rid of parasites in their gut," says Tanaka.

He says whether good treatments versus bad treatments spread depend on two opposing forces.

On the one hand people can abandon a treatment that doesn't appear work and stop it from spreading.

On the other they can persist in using it in the hope it will work, there by using it longer so more people give it a go.

"So there are both of these forces at work," says Tanaka.

He says where people persist in using bad treatments, perhaps because they've invested a lot in it already, this favours the spread of these treatments.

Tanaka says that the modelling could help explain why ineffective folk or complementary remedies continue to be used.

He says judging whether a treatment is effective or not can be difficult, especially when there is a lack of evidence available.

And he says this can apply to modern Western treatments as well.
"Interesting paper"

Associate Professor Alex Barratt at the University of Sydney who has studied the poor uptake of evidence-based medicine describes Tanaka's paper as "really interesting".

"There are so many examples of where the effective treatment [for an illness] has taken 20 or 25 years to get into broad practice, so clearly there are factors that we don't understand going on."

"Maybe this paper is a little step in the direction of trying to understand what those things are."

Barratt says the paper shows a range of subjective factors influence individual judgements about whether a treatment works or not.

But, she says, history has shown that individuals aren't in a position to judge whether a treatment works or not.

Barratt gives the example of one heart drug used in the US in the 1980s.

"There was a really good biological rationale for using it, but the clinicians prescribing those medicines couldn't actually see that they were killing people with these drugs," she says.

"It wasn't until they did a big randomised controlled trial that it was really obvious that the drugs were doing more harm than good."
Roads kill more than malaria: study
Seagrass link to seahorse upright posture
Black band disease hits Great Barrier Reef
Hobbit feet reignite debate
Lizards soak up sunshine vitamin
Canada sequences swine flu virus
Termites are a miner's best friend
'Hide and seek' costly to HIV
Giant trilobites had complex social lives
Midnight sun too much for some
More toxics added to 'dirty dozen' list
Rogue galaxies prompt rethink on Newton
Acupuncture relieves back pain: study
Blazars shed light on black hole physics
Unfaithful offspring get head start
Daydreamers might solve problems faster
Coal supply may be vastly overestimated
Science and unis are winners in the budget
Heartbeat key for blood growth in embryos
Neck pain worse for women in the office
Busty figurine a 'Paleolithic Playboy'
Plant cells help bees get a grip
Space trio to give sharper view of cosmos
Sea creatures inspire CO2 sponge
Genetic link between period onset and BMI
Researchers find bacteria in clouds
Sustainable farm research 'under threat'
Tree leaves monitor pollution levels
Stay upright during labour, say experts
Antarctic ice growth linked to ozone hole
Fires fuelling global warming: study
Methane climate shock 'less likely'
Genome map reveals cow's genetic makeup
Microbe bubble machine stores energy
Stress gives reef fish wonky ears
Swine flu remains a mystery
Perception is in the ear of the beholder
Solar wind gives asteroids a tanning
Researchers find grain's memory gene
PET bottles potential health hazard
Researchers find first common autism gene
Fossil fuel use must fall to 25%: study
'WaveRider' poised for hypersonic flight
Big cuttlefish 'at risk' from desalination
Glaciers show north-south climate divide
Mobile phones help cardiac rehab
Dancing birds feel the beat
Mushrooms may yield vitamin D bonanza
Dingoes may be a native's best friend
Dud treatments more easily spread
U2 comet dust predates solar system
Australian CO2 delay sends 'mixed message'
Visit Statistics