Durham fish oil (non)trial: when is a control group not a control group?

In response to a FOIA request, Durham has told us about another significant flaw in their fish oil (non)trial: the ‘treatment’ arm was students with more than 80% reported compliance with supplementation with Equazen fish oil pills; the ‘control groups was selected from any students with less than 80% reported compliance. This means that – while a student with 80% reported compliance could have counted as an example of the success of this ‘treatment’ – a student with 79% reported compliance could have been compared to them as part of the ‘control group’.

I am really not sure what to say. An earlier FOIA response gave the impression that Durham had mishandled their control group, but I wanted to check with Durham’s (very helpful) Freedom of Information Coordinator to confirm that this had really happened. I honestly found it hard to believe that Durham could have handled this research so badly.

Once again, it’s worth emphasising that this was a large research project, conducted in schools, on children. There is a responsibility – when people allow their time and their bodies to be used in research – to conduct the research competently. There are also particular ethical issues raised by research on children. The mishandling of Durham’s research on children in their schools is, frankly, shameful.

BPSDB

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9 Comments

Filed under Equazen, fish

9 responses to “Durham fish oil (non)trial: when is a control group not a control group?

  1. Bloody Nora.

    A 10-year-old could have devised a better ‘trial’ – incredible.

  2. oatmealts

    Do you ever get the feeling that this is a long, elaborate set-up for a Candid Camera or comedy routine? They will come out with more and more outrageous gubbins until finally every science-literate person in the UK pops a vessel?

  3. manigen

    “A 10-year-old could have devised a better ‘trial’”

    So could Equazen, they just didn’t want to. After all, why should they or Durham Council care about solving social problems? Much better to farm some publicity for their own benefit. Bastards.

  4. No, no, Dr* T – this is one of the best trial designs ever, if you were looking for a trial that will give a false positive result. This isn’t just a bad trial, there are plenty of those out there, this is a work of woo-ey art.

    I mean, using the non-compliant subjects as the control group – that’s genius.

  5. Particularly cunning design because by including the non-compliant you have effectively failed to compare the compliant (all of your bias of compliance types as discussed elsewhere) with a group that has a chance of having a similar number of compliant types -you have created a control group with a disproportionate number of non-compliant children.

    Call me old-fashioned, but, given that children are also more like to be placebo responders (refs at above discussion) then you disproportionately might have non-responders or people who feel that they have done so well they no longer feel in need of the supplements. So although the children were matched on some criteria such as age and school there seems to be no allowance at all for the many confounding factors of having such a contaminated control group.

    It is a remarkably cynical design that brings Frankfurt and McGinn to mind.

  6. Yes – I guess in many ways (PR etc.) this was a very successful trial. There are some things that Durham managed to do very well…

  7. ereiahson

    It would be a full-time job keeping up with the machinations of the people who made all of these errors that you would expect 14-year olds to catch.

    They can’t ever hope to publish this flawed work.

  8. ursi

    You are dogged in keeping abreast of this. Someday, let’s hope that this isn’t necessary because there will be enforceable, decent standards for reporting on health and science.

    I can only hope that this sort of coverage means that Equazen and Durham know that they must moderate their advertising. If they ever publish this in a journal they must know that there will be some close scrutiny, based in part on the fact that analyses like this are available in the public domain.

  9. Pingback: Durham’s ground breaking Equazen EyeQ/fish oil initiative report released « Holford Watch: Patrick Holford, nutritionism and bad science

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