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Some time ago I wrote to you over your advocating unsound treatments in reporting fund-raising efforts.

I now find myself writing again on much the same issue, this time regards your advocating unsound services. The issues are so similar I find myself drawing on my earlier words.

Please, when you decide to ‘advocate’ for a service, check that it is sound.

Articles about services offering hope of treating illness no doubt sell copy, but with that comes responsibility.

These articles, with their details of how to contact the service provider at the bottom, effectively advocate the service to the reader.

Sure, you could argue whether the treatment is sound is for the reader to judge before giving them their money – but wouldn’t that be newspapers shirking their moral responsibilities?

If you put down details of the service in the article you’re effectively putting your weight behind it.

Editors, like most people, will be aware that articles in the press carry some weight of creditability, rightly or wrongly. There will be an expectation among many that the media has checked ‘the facts’.[1]

It seems to me either that this checking should done, and done properly, or the advocacy dropped.

My brief missive here follows from an article espousing the services of an iridologist published yesterday in the New Zealand Herald that was brought to my attention by my colleagues.[2]

Even the briefest of background research would have revealed that iridology is nonsense. Quaint, well-meaning nonsense, perhaps, but nonsense nevertheless.

That article is written by  Stephen Barrett, M.D.[3] His bottom line? -

Iridology makes no anatomic or physiologic sense. It is not merely worthless. Incorrect diagnoses can unnecessarily frighten people, cause them to waste money seeking medical care for nonexistent conditions, or steer them away from necessary medical care when a real problem is overlooked.

Similarly, a survey of the medical literature finds no support for iridology.

I would later pen a letter to the editor concerned, but past experience suggests this would not be acknowledged , replied to or published.

My encouragement is for you not to write or publish uncritical advertorial material.

Let me close on that note. There is a place for critical analysis. Done sympathetically and thoroughly, it benefits everyone.[4] It’s a little harder to do, I guess. The writer has to put some effort into looking into the subject they are writing about. The editor has to not be tempted to use lazy copy. Quality media should draw a line on material that is inaccurate and encourage poor practice.

Let me finally paraphrase a quote offered in my earlier letter, some words that echo my thoughts:

’Unfortunately, so is the credulous variety of reporting that doesn’t actually look into [X]‘s treatment and the lack of evidence for it. […] That credulity is understandable in the parents of a child [a serious illness]. It’s not so understandable in a reporter’

Footnotes

I will add this is an issue has previously bothered me from other coverage I’ve seen in the New Zealand media. It’s not the first time and I’m sure it won’t be the last, unfortunately.

1. People like myself and my colleagues who have seen media repeatedly mangle science and medicine coverage will know the reality is less favourable…

2. Thanks to Aimee Whitcroft for the original heads-up.

3. Barrett’s website also contains a longer article by a former iridologist that is worth reading.

4. It’s the, sometimes personalised, attacks or ‘shouting down’ that hurts.


Other articles on Code for life:

Iridologist’s treatment of cancer criticised by Health and Disability Commissioner

Homeopathy in NZ pharmacies revisited: Wartoff and more

Bad science: baking soda, fungi, cancer, nuclear fallout, rosacea

Those behind charter schools are to be exempt from public scrutiny – ?

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