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The blind shall “see”: Fox promotes new visual aid with one woman’s glowing testimonial

Rating

3 Star

Categories

OrCam helps the blind math teacher 'see' again

Our Review Summary

orcam

The OrCam device

This story is basically a testimonial about a math teacher whose medical condition — Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy — left her with impaired vision.  The teacher was able to use a new product, a camera that fits beside the wearer’s glasses and “reads” to the wearer, restoring at least in part her ability to “see.”

Unfortunately, a description of one woman’s very positive experience with this device isn’t going to give readers the full story here. There’s no discussion of evidence (it’s unclear if there is, in fact, any evidence on this device), and the benefits described by the woman in the story may not be representative of broader experience with it. The story needed to dig deeper and more widely to give readers an accurate portrait of this technology.

 

Why This Matters

For people whose vision suddenly deteriorates, any aid which provides them with either a fix for the situation or an alternative method of “seeing” is a huge plus for their quality of life.  In the case cited in this story, the OrCam apparently provided that for this individual. But whether such benefits are experienced more broadly is an open question that this story doesn’t attempt to answer.

 

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Satisfactory

The story does state the cost of the OrCam camera as being $3,500.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story cites one case of a single individual who has a comparatively rare form of vision loss, which the OrCam device seemed to remedy, at least in part.  The individual told the writer that she now can read things in a short period of time where before, she had to read letter-by-letter, a slow, cumbersome method of gaining information.

That’s fine as far as it goes, but what’s lacking is whether this experience is representative of others who’ve used the product. Has the product ever been studied? If not, then the story should have said so. In our view, the presentation of a single person’s very positive experience with the device doesn’t provide a balanced enough view of the benefits

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

Not Applicable

The device apparently “reads,” deciphers and then dictates what it “sees” to the wearer. We suppose it’s possible that the product could misread something that puts the user at risk of harm, but that seems to be a very hypothetical concern. We’ll rate it Not Applicable.

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

Not Satisfactory

As we said, this is a testimonial.  It concerns a single case involving a rare disease.  There was no study, no population of participants, no publication of results, and certainly no scientific examination offered.  Case studies, which one might charitably describe this as, can be informative but they in no way signify any kind of scientific discovery or indication that might apply to a large population, or to the public in general. The story doesn’t include any discussion of the limitations of this one-person case study, and the headline is a bit misleading. While the teacher may well be legally blind, the product does not actually help her to “see” or actually repair her vision. OrCam performs what seems to be an amazing feat of technology by reading written documents to the user, but it does not “heal the blind.”

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

The story does not commit disease-mongering.

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

Satisfactory

Aside from the teacher who’s the subject of this story, one of two quoted sources is Bryan Wolynski, described as “an optometrist who promotes OrCam to doctors and trains patients on how to use the device” — hardly an independent source but we think it’s good that his relationship with the manufacturer is clearly identified. The second referenced source, Dr. Marc Werner, is only described as “another ophthalmologist,” but he does describe some drawbacks to the technology that help balance out the coverage. Given the somewhat promotional nature of the story (the link at the end of the story points to the commercial webpage for the OrCam product),.it would have been nice to have an official acknowledgment of Werner’s independence from the manufacturer, as well as some indication of his specific qualifications in discussing this device. But the story does seem to do the minimum necessary for a Satisfactory rating here.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

While the story does mention in passing other approaches which can help impaired people see better, these options, described as “large and bulky,”  do not represent a Satisfactory range of alternatives. The story offers the OrCam as one option, but it fails to point out that there are numerous other mobile digital devices to help restore some vision, or alternative sensory substitution devices that can translate visual signals into either audible or tactile signals.  A casual reader might believe that the OrCam was the only such aid available, based on this story.

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

Satisfactory

Since the story links to a website describing the OrCam product, it’s logical to assume it is available on the market.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Satisfactory

As stated above, this is not the only assist device of its kind available to the visually impaired, and is therefore not as novel as a reader might assume based on the story. The story does not state that this is the only solution to such problems, but readers certainly might get that impression.

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

Satisfactory

The somewhat promotional tone of this story gives us pause, but we couldn’t find any news release that this story might be based on. And since there is input from an expert who doesn’t appear to be involved with the product, it seems that the story does have some original reporting that went beyond any news release.

Total Score: 5 of 9 Satisfactory

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