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Echinacea helps colds, major review shows


4 Star

Echinacea helps colds, major review shows

Our Review Summary

This article does an excellent job of putting a new finding about the benefits of echinacea in context of previous research. Too often an article will report the new findings and only much lower in the story mention that it contradicts earlier work. From the first paragraph the reporter lets us know we’re getting only the latest news about a messy, unresolved area of study.

The reporter also does a first-rate job of gathering a range of sources to put the findings in context. This article goes well beyond the minimum researcher-plus-one-outside-source requirement, with great benefit to readers.

But the story falls short in the area of helping readers make informed decisions based on the findings. The article doesn’t provide enough information on the magnitude of the benefits, the costs of the treatment, or the alternatives. This may leave a reader informed but not well prepared to make a decision about how these findings apply to their own lives. 



Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

Since this article is about a treatment whose benefits are disputed, it should tell readers how much it costs. This would let them do a rough cost-vs.-benefit calculation as they consider whether to use echinacea. 

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


The reporter says the study showed a 58 percent reduction in cold risk, and some unspecified ability to shorten duration. It would be useful to know how likely an average adult or child is to get a cold each year, and how long it lasts. This would also help people understand the possible payoff of taking echinacea–and compare it to the costs.  

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


The article points out that the herb has some side effects, and quotes a physician mentioning the most common one (a rash, especially in children) and the most important contraindication (pregnancy). It also points out that the study did not take potential harms into account, alerting readers to the possiblity of others not mentioned here.

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


The reporter does an excellent job of describing the technique of meta-analysis, the details of this study, and the benefits and limits of this research approach. He also provides context by describing earlier research into the same question.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


The article does not exaggerate the effects of colds or the value of the treatment.

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


The reporter does an excellent job describing the rigor of the study and getting the author, an interested party, and a disinterested party to provide perspective.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The article fails to mention other options for treating and preventing colds. Again, due to the disputed nature of the findings, this is a significant oversight. The reader will want to know: If echinacea doesn’t work, what else can I try?

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

Not Applicable

The article fails to say how widely the herb is used and where it’s available. But it’s probably safe to assume that most Americans know how to find it. 

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


The article makes very clear that this treatment has been studied many times before, with contradictory results.

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


The reporter did a significant amount of original reporting.

Total Score: 7 of 9 Satisfactory


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