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?