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Acupuncture May Help Restore Lost Sense of Smell

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Acupuncture May Help Restore Lost Sense of Smell

Our Review Summary

How journalism has changed – when a journalist gets a byline and a paycheck for a meager rewrite of a news release. 

 

Why This Matters

In the daily drumbeat of news like this – a study of 15 people – we drown the audience with a firehose of incomplete information.  And HealthDay’s client, BusinessWeek, picked up the story as is and republished it.  It’s just shovelware. 

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

No discussion of costs.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

Again, because the scope of the benefits (how improved smell function was measured) was not explained, it’s almost meaningless to say that there was improvement in 8 people in the acupuncture group.  How much improvement?  How significant was the improvement?  And how limited is the conclusion one can draw from improvement in 8 people?

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

No discussion of potential harms.  Even if few or none, it should be mentioned.  Why would only benefits be mentioned?

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory
  • No discussion of the limitations of drawing conclusions from a study in just 15 people
  • No discussion of how improvement in smell function was measured and limitations of subjective self-assessments. Even the news release explained that "Subjective olfactometry was performed using the Sniffin’ Sticks test set. Treatment success was defined as an increase of at least six points in the sticks test scores."

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Applicable

Not applicable, however the story gives no estimate of the number of people with post-viral olfactory dysfunction.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Not Satisfactory

No independent source was quoted.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

We’re told that "In the literature, systemic and topical steroids as well as vitamin B supplements, caroverine, alpha lipoic acid, and other drugs were used to treat patients" – but we’re not told anything about what that literature reveals about these approaches.  So no meaningful comparison was made. And, again, not much comparison could be made anyway after a study in 15 people.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Applicable

Not applicable. The availability of acupuncture is not in question.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Satisfactory

We are not given any sense of whether this approach has been tested before.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?

Not Satisfactory

The story admits it was based on a news release.  Worse, it appears to be only a meager re-write of the news release.  For example:

Story:

"There is no validated drug treatment for PVOD. Current treatments include systemic and topical steroids, vitamin B supplements, caroverine, and alpha lipoic acid. In addition to these treatments, many patients use complementary and alternative medicines, the researchers noted."

News release: 

"..there is no validated pharmacotherapy for PVOD, but attempts have been made to establish a standardized treatment. In the literature, systemic and topical steroids as well as vitamin B supplements, caroverine, alpha lipoic acid, and other drugs were used to treat patients. The researchers point out that in addition to these treatments, complementary and alternative medicines are currently being employed by many patients on their own."

And somebody gets a byline and a paycheck for this?

Total Score: 0 of 8 Satisfactory

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