Quick update: I promised if our letter to the ed was not published in last week’s Sunday paper, then I’d put it here.

This was written in response to a suggestion from the journalist who wrote the acupuncture/ED piece which can be seen here.

After some discussion with another science journalist and others, it seems very likely that it was The Age who instigated this article, probably via the common scenario of chatting with scientists about a particular subject, then asking the standard “are you working on anything else right now?”.

This chain of events is supported by a lack of press release on the university website or sent through the normal channels. Which makes sense as there was really nothing to release.

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Link here

Whilst I’d previously put the blame squarely at the feet of the researchers, my science journo mate puts it at the feet of the newspaper. Still, the researchers have since been on radio to spruik their research, so they are still very much to blame for perpetuating this nonsense.

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Link to tweet here

In the tweet above @simbelsin refers to “independent comment” which essentially mean asking for comment from another scientist or expert who was not directly involved in the study. This is commonly done in stories on science and medicine, but was not done here.

Anyway, FWIW, here is what we submitted the The Age.


(Note: the word limit for LTE is 200 for this section of the paper but 300 for LTE of the Drive section. Go figure).

The article “Acupuncture as effective as drugs in treating pain, trial shows” raises some very important questions about current research practices into complementary and alternative medicine. The cart was put well before the horse when the researchers discussed their results “while data from the study is still being analysed”.

Why did the researchers discuss their results with the media when they have yet to complete their own data analysis, let alone have the final results published in a peer reviewed journal? The Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research (Section 4.12.1) advises against such practice.

Why weren’t placebo sham controls for acupuncture included in the study design, which are usually mandatory for this type of subjective outcome study? Pain is extremely sensitive to the placebo effect, and it is impossible to distinguish any real effects of acupuncture from placebo in the absence of effective controls.

Lastly, why has this trial, that was funded to the tune of over $400,000 in 2009, still not been published? Systematic investigation of complementary medicine should be encouraged, but this study, at least according to the available information and in the absence of a published study, appears to be bad practice of bad science.

Signed me and my mate John.

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