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Tai chi may ease fibromyalgia pain


4 Star

Tai chi may ease fibromyalgia pain

Our Review Summary

The story does two things better than all the other stories. It puts a dollar figure to the cost of tai chi therapy, and it gives people a better sense of how popular tai chi is. It could have done a better job evaluating the evidence and providing some absolute numbers to help readers decide how seriously to take these results.


Why This Matters

Why not just give the absolute numbers? How many out of how many? Why make the reader do the math? "79% of tai chi participants said their symptoms had improved, compared with 39% of those in the educational class…Even three months after the classes ended, 82% of tai chi students still felt better, compared with 53% of the comparison group." Sure, the denominators are in the story but we shouldn’t need to pull out the calculator to figure out 79% of x, vs. 39% of x. 



Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?


This is the only of the five stories to actually put a dollar figure on the classes. "Even the cost of a class, which can top $50 a month, is modest compared with the cost of many medications. And unlike drugs, tai chi had no harmful side effects, she says."

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


Unlike the AP story, which made the mistake of saying that "symptoms improved significantly for the tai chi group and little for the others," this story, at least, presents some numbers. The trouble is, those numbers are in relative terms. So, instead of saying that three months after the classes ended, 27 patients who took tai chi classes felt better and 17 who tried other therapies also felt better, it presents the difference as 82% versus 53%. That seems more dramatic.  Absolute data would be more meaningful. Why make the reader do the math?

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


The story is one of the few stories that covered this study to actually point out that "unlike drugs, tai chi had no harmful side effects."

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


In the end, because of the comments from Gloria Yeh, the story puts the appropriate caveats on the findings. This sentence does a great job of summarizing some of the problems with the study: "Yeh notes that researchers don’t know which aspects of tai chi were most helpful: the exercise, deep breathing, relaxation exercise, meeting new friends or learning from a charismatic teacher."

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


This story actually spends too little time talking about the condition itself. The AP devoted a whole paragraph in an eight paragaph story to the condition, and the LA Times led its piece by describing the disease. USA Today instead went with a very nice description of tai chi, putting the emphasis on the beauty and simiplicity of the therapy rather than the difficulty clinicians have had correctly diagnosing and treating fibromyalgia. This is the only story to include the phrase "white crane spreads its wings" or anything like that.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story doesn’t actually quote any of the authors and instead quotes two outside experts, one of whom wrote an accompanying editorial. It fails to fully attribute the comments made by "Callahan." It appears that the writer means Leigh F. Callahan, who just completed a study of tai chi for arthritis and was quoted by other reporters. (How did this slip through copy editing?  Was this a slip-up only in the online version?) But we can’t give credit to an independent source that the story doesn’t adequately identify.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The story does not compare the therapy to existing alternatives or even discuss existing alternatives, aside from a passing reference at the very end to medications.

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


This is the only one of the five stories to note that "A study in 2007 from the National Institutes of Health found that 2.3 million American adults had used tai chi in the past year." This doesn’t tell you whether tai chi classes are as readily available in Oklahoma as they are in New Mexico, but it does give you a sense of how popular they are.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Satisfactory

It is unclear from this story whether tai chi has been studied before for other conditions. It has. It also is unclear what fibromyalgia patients now do for therapy. The LA Times, for example, pointed out that patients in the study stopped taking drugs for treatment, for example.

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


The story does not rely on a news release.

Total Score: 7 of 10 Satisfactory


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