Why can’t I read it?

March 13, 2008 at 5:49 pm (Alternative Medicine, Bad Science, Media, Remedies) (, , , , , )

Right – I’ve probably got this completely wrong. I must have clicked on the wrong link or something. There must be something I’m missing here. No decent media outlet would report on something that cannot be checked. Would they?

There was a piece on the BBC website today that reported on a study looking at a combination of herbs for eczema. There is: no reference to the name of the paper; no link to an abstract or paper; no reference to an author. The link to the journal has been bringing up the message “Internet Explorer cannot display the webpage” (or “server not found” if you’re on Mozilla Firefox) and a Google search on “Chinese University of Hong Kong site:http://www.blackwellpublishing.com/journals/bjd/” yielded no results. I can’t find it on Pubmed either. How can it be right that the BBC can publish a story that “a traditional Chinese herbal medicine consisting of five herbs may ease eczema symptoms”, when none of us can read the damn paper for ourselves.

Eventually, the journal page loaded – but I still couldn’t find a mention of this paper on Chinese herbs and eczema. The fact that no-one can possibly know if this paper is any good or not (how can you if you can’t read it?) hasn’t stopped the BBC from publicising the results. They also include a handy list of the herbs used by the researchers – perhaps so you can seek out some extracts and do a bit of DIY herbalism. Who knows? This is as close as the BBC come to giving us any data:

In the study, 85 patients were either given the medicine, or a placebo. Patients who took the medicine reported that their quality of life improved by a third, while those who took the placebo reported no improvement. The researchers also found the herbal remedy reduced patients’ needs for the conventional treatment of topical steroids by an average of four days a month, compared to just one day a month in the placebo group.

Were the results statistically significant? Were the results clinically significant? We don’t know and we can’t find out. Why is this news then?

10 Comments

  1. Dr* T said,

    I think it’s this one:

    http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1365-2133.2008.08502.x

    although it’s behind a paywall :(

  2. badchemist said,

    I’ve just scanned the paper that Dr* T has linked to and an earlier one they reference. Not my area but the latest one seems a bit odd and doesn’t seem to relate to the story that much (most of it is in vitro immuno stuff).

    The earlier one is a RPCT but a lot of the results don’t seem overly significant to me but I know *nothing* about the scoring methods they are using.

    Email me if you want them both.

  3. badchemist said,

    Sorry to double post. The paper the beeb must be referring to is the earlier one I mentioned above and can be found here:http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1365-2133.2007.07941.x

    That features the group of 85 patients mentioned in the article.

  4. jdc325 said,

    Right – I’ve probably got this completely wrong

    I’m going to make that my logo.

    Thanks for the comments.

  5. mugsandmoney said,

    The abstract contains an inconsistency – the medication was administered in capsule form (therefore subjects should not be able to taste it). But it was also described as “palatable”.

    Anyway, it should be easy to replicate.

  6. badchemist said,

    From the discussion section of the article:

    “Unlike many bitter-tasting TCHM remedies, children in this study found the capsule easy to swallow and palatable.”

    Basically, “Putting it in a plastic capsule means it doesn’t taste like shit anymore”

  7. jdc325 said,

    Thanks for your comments everyone.

    Re “Putting it in a plastic capsule means it doesn’t taste like shit anymore” – no, but it will make you shit yourself. Diarrhoea was one of the reported adverse events in the TCHM group.

  8. PJ said,

    To be honest it wouldn’t be surprising for the media to report on an unpublished study – I can think of a few examples from the last few years.

  9. jdc said,

    Follow-up here: https://jdc325.wordpress.com/2008/03/14/i-can-read-it/
    The BBC has been very selective in their reporting of this.

  10. The Guide said,

    If you are interested in a cure for eczema then use water kefir. It will cure psoriasis in 3 months so eczema is no problem.

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