The ghost in the data: Evidence gaps and the problem of fake drugs in global health research
For the past several decades, global health research and policy have raised the alarm about the growing threat of counterfeit and low-quality drugs (henceforth ‘fakes’). These high-profile and regularly-repeated claims about ‘fake drugs’ pepper scholarly publications, grey literature, and popular writing. We reviewed much of this work and found that it shares two characteristics that sit awkwardly alongside one another. First, it asserts that fake drugs constitute an urgent threat to lives. Second, it reports trouble with ‘gaps’ in the evidence on which their claims are based; that data is weaker and less conclusive than anticipated. Given the ubiquity of and urgency with these claims are made, we found this juxtaposition perplexing. To understand this juxtaposition better, we undertook a close reading of the strategies authors employed to negotiate and overcome data and evidence ‘gaps’ and asked questions about the cultures of scholarly publishing in global health research. We argue that a scholarly commitment to studying fakes despite–rather than because of—the evidence functions to support the continuation of similar research. It also works against asking different questions—for instance regarding the lack of easy access to pharmacological data that might make it possible to know fakes differently.
Hodges, Sarah, and Emma Garnett. 2020. “The Ghost in the Data: Evidence Gaps and the Problem of Fake Drugs in Global Health Research.” Global Public Health 15 (8): 1103–18.
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