Lies, damned lies and epidemiology: why global health needs good epidemiological practice guidelines


S Alba, C Mergenthaler

Epidemiology is the cornerstone of global health. It shapes policy decisions and evidence-based practice by identifying disease risk factors and preventive healthcare targets.

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Most epidemiological findings are genuine and make an important contribution to global health, but some findings are obtained from ill-designed, poorly implemented, inappropriately analysed or selectively reported studies.

These practices in the grey zone between deliberate misconduct (which includes fabrication, falsification and plagiarism) and ideal scientific behaviour are commonly referred to as ‘questionable research practices’

Scientific misconduct and questionable practices have no place in global health as they steer research in the wrong direction, misguide public policy and undermine society’s trust. Studies can and should be conducted according to the highest attainable professional standards. While the reproducibility crisis is complex and multifaceted, guidelines can address part of the problem by facilitating structured and transparent processes. In this article we argue that global health would greatly benefit from adopting its own set of widely endorsed good epidemiological practice (GEP) guidelines.