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False Positive: A Year of Error, Omission, and Political Correctness in the New England Journal of Medicine

Thursday June 2019


Theodore Dalrymple Senior Fellow | Contributing Editor, City Journal

Co-sponsored by Encounter Books

The New England Journal of Medicine is one of the most important general medical journals in the world. Doctors and researchers rely on its conclusions, and generally don’t look beyond the abstracts to question assumptions or methodology. Many of its pronouncements are conveyed by the media to a mass audience, which is likely to take them as authoritative. But is this trust entirely warranted?

Theodore Dalrymple, a doctor retired from practice, turned a critical eye upon a full year of the Journal, alert to dubious premises and to what is left unsaid. In False Positive, he demonstrates that many of the papers it publishes reach conclusions that are not only flawed, but clearly flawed. He exposes errors of reasoning and conspicuous omissions apparently undetected by the editors. In some cases, there is reason to suspect actual corruption.

The Journal’s take on social questions is politically correct to the point of orthodoxy. Virtually no debate on social issues appears in the printed version, and contentious points of view go unchallenged. The Journal reads as if there were only one possible point of view. It is more megaphone than sounding board.

There is much in the New England Journal of Medicine that deserves praise and admiration. But Dalrymple’s book encourages the reader to take a constructively critical view of medical news and to be wary of the latest medical dogma.

Theodore Dalrymple was born in London in 1949. He retired as a full-time doctor in 2005. He is the author of many books, notably Life at the Bottom (Ivan Dee) and Romancing Opiates (Encounter), which challenges the notion that heroin addiction is a bona fide disease.