How doctors describe the many interactions between a person, their illness, and society has little purchase in the crudely dualistic world of popular culture. Read the rest of this entry »
Saturday September 29 2007
One thing that always fascinates me, as I tug on my pipe in this armchair, is how reductionist, how mechanical, how sciencey and medical we like our stories about the body to be. This week a major new study was published on acupuncture. Many newspapers said it showed acupuncture performing better than medical treatment: in fact it was 8 million times more interesting than that.
Read the rest of this entry »
I was just on Radio 4′s PM program talking about the acupuncture study that’s in the news today, you can listen to it here (37 minutes in to the programme):
Here are some references and background bits and bobs.
The paper itself was very interesting. It took 1200 people, with an average of 8 years back pain each: we can assume not been helped by biomedical treatments. They were split into three groups: one group had medical treatment; one group had proper, real, bells and whistles, needles in the “meridiens” acupuncture; and one group were treated with pretend acupuncture. Read the rest of this entry »
False advertising is not the remedy
Thursday March 11, 2004
Talk bad science
Â· I wouldn’t want you to feel powerless in the face of the new dark ages irrationality: there’s so much more to being a bad science activist than just feeling smug after winning an argument at a party, as Dr Danny O’Hare demonstrates this week.
“The Children’s Clinic in Brighton’s pernicious advertising managed to find its way into my (primary age) children’s book bags in the local school, thanks to over-zealous promotion by a satisfied, if deluded, customer. Anyway, I read the ad and they were claiming to cure asthma, a life-threatening, distressing condition for which real scientific medicine cannot even provide complete symptomatic relief, much less cure. The claim was obviously false.”
Needless to say, the clinic was planning on “using only complementary therapies such as acupuncture, homeopathy and osteopathy”. O’Hare complained, rather heroically, to the Advertising Standards Authority. After much bleating on the part of the Children’s Clinic, the ASA agreed that sentences like “after the remedy she was completely back to normal… no asthma” did rather imply that the clinic thought it could cure asthma, and noted that the advertiser had not sent evidence to support that claim. (I could give them plenty to refute it.) “The authority reminded the advertiser that testimonials did not constitute substantiation.” The plural of anecdote is not data. Complaint upheld, and knuckles rapped. The only mystery is why we’re not doing this all the time.
Â· So, much as I hate to suggest that we could bring a government department to its knees with overwork, if we could all report just one a week each… it only takes a minute to fill in an online complaints form at www.asa.org.uk, and they’re more hardline than you might think. “Medical and scientific claims about health and beauty products should be backed by trials conducted, where appropriate, on people.” Sanity at last.
And if you can convince your local trading standards department that they’ve broken the Trade Descriptions Act 1968, then they may have committed a criminal act. Just to make life easier for you, that’s www.tradingstandards.gov.uk. The prisons will be overflowing. I found the sentence “advertisements should not imply that the population in general is likely to be deficient in vitamins or minerals” especially heartwarming, although it’s a shame that the Press Complaints Commission doesn’t take the same line on flaky alternative health columnists in national newspapers who recommend their friends’ expensive supplement pills.
Chocolates and homeopathy
Thursday April 24, 2003
New: Talk about Bad science
Â· I was delighted to see that the government has given Â£1.3m to the pseudo-scientists marketing alternative therapies such as homeopathy and acupuncture. This money will go towards research projects to determine whether their money-making scams really help people, and whether they should be available on the NHS. I can think of nothing better, though why an industry reported this week to make Â£130m a year out of the British public can’t be bothered to spend 1% of that on sorting out its own research is another question. And how they plan to help an underfunded NHS, in which GPs can offer only six-minute appointments, get round the fact that people prefer alternative therapists because they are privately employed to spend an hour listening to people talk about themselves without calling it counselling, is another matter.
Â· What you might not know, because it’s so much less newsworthy, is that the government has given an equal and opposite gift to the noble bad science hunters of the world, having arranged for everyone to have free access to the Cochrane Library online. This is the best single source of reliable evidence about the effects of health care in the world. It is built up from statistical reviews of the available experimental evidence, combining the results from lots of different trials to make one big one, and offers the best chance of getting at the reality of what works and what doesn’t. Being a trouble maker, the first thing I did was go to their site (link below) and look up acupuncture. Oh look, there are 22 studies already on smoking and acupuncture. Hang on: “There is no clear evidence that acupuncture, acupressure, laser therapy or electrostimulation are effective for smoking cessation.”
The Cochrane Library
Â· Lastly, it was good to see that in these godless times, with church attendance dropping yearly, we have at least managed to maintain the traditional Easter ritual of stories in the news about chocolate being good for you. Speculative laboratory studies about antioxidant flavonoids, and their possible effect on the immune system and bone metabolism, were gaily reported in more places than I could count as if the patient population studies on osteoporosis and coronary heart disease were already in the bag. But if you really think you need more of vitamins A1, B1, B2, C, D, and E, why not skip the chocolates and get your fat arse down to the market to buy some fruit for a change?
Dr Goldacre will be back next week. Please send your favourite Bad Science to: email@example.com