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All hail the parasites!

There has been a recent scientific kerfuffle regarding some researchers’ reliance on existing data. Is it justifiable only to amalgamate, reanalyse and reinterpret others’ published results—or can one truly add to the field only by contributing original data? This nuanced debate has been politicised by the pejorative phrase ‘research parasites’ to demean those using existing data. Controversially, primary authors do not always do the best job of reporting their data and independent scientists often produce a more genuine report. Ben Goldacre's advocates ‘new research on all data’, culminating in a BMJ report on efficacy and harms of paroxetine and imipramine in treating major depression in adolescence. An accompanying editorial praised this paper as having ‘the potential to benefit patients, prevent harm, and correct misleading research’. Quite an adulation for the humble research parasite. Perhaps we could think of this as …

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  • Editors' commentary
    Phil Smith Geraint N Fuller