Magnetic needling

August 25th, 2005 by Ben Goldacre in bad science | 5 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Thursday August 25, 2005
The Guardian

· “Magnetic bandages can help wounds heal faster,” says the Daily Mail, which is certainly a headline that invites close reading. “A magnetic leg wrap has been successfully used to treat wounds that have failed to heal for years … Doctors found that seven out of 10 patients who used the magnetic wrap in the trial had no new outbreaks of leg ulcers.” Call me picky: first, they say “doctors”, but there was only one doctor in this operation: step up Dr Nyjon Eccles, proprietor of the hugely entertaining, where you can get your “Photon Detox Therapy” done, buy some nutrient pills, and read all about the excellent Airnergy+ system. “All chronic pain, suffering, and diseases are caused from a lack of oxygen at the cell level,” says our Dr Eccles. Second, when journalist Roger Dobson says “seven out of 10” we assume this is a palatable way of expressing statistics. He’s even used natural frequencies, like a good boy ( ). But seven out of 10 is closer to the raw data than you might think, since there were only 26 patients in this pilot study from the Journal of Wound Care that he’s reporting on. That’s only nine more subjects than Dobson’s previous record, when he told us that “Night Eating Syndrome affects an estimated 1 million people in the UK,” and that for 30% “their symptoms were wiped out” with Sertraline. Pfizer Pharmaceuticals (who make Sertraline) funded the study: not a big drain on their resources since it only had 17 subjects, wasn’t blinded, and had neither a placebo control group nor, in fact, any control group at all. Headline news!

· By now I’m losing the will to live. But by the mercy of the nanny state, there’s someone else to do my job: the NHS’s own “Hitting the Headlines”, a regular review of science behind the news at A bit like bumping into your twin brother on his way to church as you stumble home propped up between two immodestly dressed showgirls. It’s like Bad Science without the sperm jokes, which some might say is a blessing. They get extra marks for explaining that the 68% reduction in ulcer size and 41% complete ulcer healing, reported by Dobson, are not from the randomised trial, but Magnopulse’s survey of 160 customers. “This survey is likely to be a very poor estimator of effectiveness due to its study design and the author’s failure to investigate non-response bias.” They even reference the Cochrane abstract, the gold standard systematic review ignored by Dobson, which assesses the (uncompelling) evidence on magnetic bandages. Go sister!

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5 Responses

  1. Delster said,

    November 21, 2005 at 12:30 pm

    and here was me thinking the continual pain from a couple of damaged joints was from bit’s rubbing against other bits that are not designed to be rubbed on! so i’m off to buy me a cylinder of oxygen!

  2. ecacofonix said,

    May 12, 2006 at 6:08 pm

    Back in India – which is where I live – I’m amazed how much people believe what’s shown on Tele Shopping Networks. I mean, it will be obvious even to the dimmest-wit that what they were claiming was simply not possibly, but well, I’m sure the folks are selling well!

    And statistics, it’s just humorous! But I think in reality, only a small section of the target audience really understand sampling etc., so I guess these guys are able to get away with it

    Good article, cheers


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