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Consumer Reports drops the ball on alternative medicine

Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve intermittently read Consumer Reports, relying on it for guidance in all manner of purchase decisions. CR has been known for rigorous testing of all manner of consumer products and the rating of various services, arriving at its rankings through a systematic testing method that, while not necessarily bulletproof, has been far more organized and consistent than most other ranking systems. True, I haven’t always agreed with CR’s rankings of products and services about which I know a lot, but at the very least CR has often made me think about how much of my assessments are based on objective measures and how much on subjective measures.

Until now.

I just saw something yesterday on the CR website that has made me wonder just how scientific CR’s testing methods are, as CR has apparently decided to promote alternative medicine modalities by “assessing” them in an utterly scientifically ignorant manner. Maybe I just haven’t been following CR regularly for a while, but if there’s an article that demonstrates exactly why consumer product testing organizations should not be testing medical treatments; they are ill-equipped to do so and lack the expertise and knowledge. The first red flag was the title, namely Hands-on, mind-body therapies beat supplements. The second red flag was the introduction to the article:

A new survey of subscribers to Consumer Reports found that prescription drugs generally performed better than alternative therapies for 12 common health problems. But hands-on treatments such as chiropractic care and deep-tissue massage, as well as mind-body therapies such as yoga and meditation, held their own, especially for certain conditions. Far fewer said that dietary supplements helped a lot.

Prescription drugs helped the most for nine of the conditions we asked about: allergies, anxiety, colds and flu, depression, digestive problems, headache and migraine, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome, and osteoarthritis.

But chiropractic care performed better than drugs for back pain, and deep-tissue massage beat drugs for neck pain. Massage was as also as good as drugs for fibromyalgia. Those hands-on therapies also scored near the top for osteoarthritis as well as for headaches and migraines.


Whatever rigorous testing methodologies CR might bring to various products, its editors clearly have zero clue when it comes to science- and evidence-based medicine if they think that a survey is the appropriate way to determine which treatments work or how well treatments work relative to each other. There was a perfect example of what that is so just the other day with the study that appeared in New England Journal of Medicine that was touted as evidence that the placebo effect is powerful but in reality what the study showed is that, while placebos can make patients think they feel better, they don’t actually do anything to change the underlying pathology of the disease for the better. That’s why science and randomized clinical trials are necessary to determine what therapies work, which ones do not, and which ones work better than others. Surveys are a notoriously unreliable and deceptive (as in self-deceptive) way of trying to assess the relative merits of various therapies, representing as they do, mainly an aggregation of testimonials. Yet that’s what CR is using to try to rank alternative medicine therapies.

Worse, CR concludes its introduction:

For details, see our full report on alternative therapies, including advice on how to find a good chiropractor, massage therapist, yoga instructor, or other alternative-medicine practitioner.

I would submit to you that any reputable testing organization should not–I repeat, should not–be providing advice on how to find alternative medicine practitioners. On the other hand, note the bait and switch. Massage therapy is not necessarily “alternative.” At least it’s not alternative until it’s infused with woo like talk of “life energies” and such. Ditto yoga instructors, given that yoga, stripped of its woo, is basically stretching exercises. As for chiropractors, my standards for what would constitute a “good” chiropractor would be a bit different than most; I’d choose chiropractors who function primarily as physical therapists, eschewing any suggestion that they can cure any disease or treat anything other than musculoskeletal complaints. Any chiropractor who still believes in those mystical, magical “subluxations” that only chiropractors can find or who promote the idea of “innate intelligence” would not be a “good” chiropractor in my book; he’d be a quack.

My scientific orientation aside, it is nonetheless rather interesting to peruse CR’s report on “alternative” treatments entitled Alternative treatments More than 45,000 readers tell up what helped. The first thing I noticed was a rather obvious logical fallacy in the form of argumentum ad populum (i.e., appeal to popularity):

Done anything alternative lately? If so, you have a lot of company. When we surveyed 45,601 Consumer Reports subscribers online, we found that three out of four were using some form of alternative therapy for their general health. More than 38 million adults make in excess of 300 million visits to acupuncturists, chiropractors, massage therapists, and other complementary and alternative practitioners each year in the United States.

One wonders how long it will be before quacks start quoting the figure of three quarters of CR readers using alternative medicine or subtly misrepresenting the figure as three-quarters of Americans. After all, “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM) and “integrative medicine” (IM) practitioners try very, very hard to paint those of us who are skeptical of their claims as hopeless Luddites trying to resist the inevitable CAM wave washing over medicine. Argumentum ad populum is one of the strongest logical fallacies that CAM proponents use. In fact, CR virtually admits that its survey is utterly useless for telling its readers what does and doesn’t work (although no doubt that’s not how the editors see it) when it states:

A total of 30,332 survey respondents gave us their perceptions of the helpfulness of treatments for their most bothersome conditions over the past two years. The respondents were Consumer Reports subscribers, and our findings might not be representative of the general population. Respondents based their opinions on personal experience, so the results can’t be compared with scientific clinical trials. And our results do not take into account the power of the placebo effect, the tendency of people to find even simulated or sham interventions helpful.

None of these caveats stops CR, though, which bravely dives right into the pool of pseudoscience promoted by appeals to popularity.

Even though this survey is pretty much useless (as CR admits while carrying it out anyway) for providing guidance about what therapies to use, I do have to admit–grudgingly–that this article does provide some rather interesting information, chief of which is that its results show that those nasty, evil, reductionistic prescription drugs in general outperformed any alternative therapy, even in a subjective, self-reported, Internet survey of CR’s subscribers like this. For instance, for allergy, prescription medications and over-the-counter medications were listed by CR readers by far as the top two therapies that “helped a lot.” It’s also interesting to note that only 2% of its readers used chiropractic to treat allergies, although 41% said that it “helped a lot.” Surprisingly, even for conditions for which “mind-body” therapies might be considered effective, prescription medications ruled the roost, including depression and anxiety. Other favorite conditions for which alt-med is used and for which alt-med claims success even though its success is virtually all placebo response yielded to the power of big pharma: Irritable bowel syndrome, insomnia, headache, and colds and flu.

In fact, for only two conditions did any “alternative” modality beat or even come close to conventional medicine even in this biased, self-reported survey: back pain/neck pain (which I lumped together because they’re both the spine), osteoarthritis, and fibromyalgia. And what was effective? For neck/back pain chiropractic for neck/back pain, chiropractic and massage were reported to be as effective as or more effective than prescription medication, which is not surprising because conventional medicine prescribes physical therapy for these conditions anyway and for spine problems chiropractic is generally physical therapy with woo liberally sprinkled on top. For fibromyalgia deep tissue massage was in a dead heat with prescription medication, which is probably more an indication of the lack of good therapies for fibromyalgia right now than it is an indication that alternative therapies work. Ditto osteoarthritis, where the effectiveness of massage probably indicates the same thing.

There are three other results of this survey that are worth mentioning, for instance this passage:

For most conditions we asked about, the No. 1 reason respondents gave for choosing an alternative treatment was simply that they were “a proponent” of it.

“Some people use these therapies because it’s just the way they were raised,” says Richard Nahin, Ph.D., M.P.H., senior adviser for scientific coordination and outreach at the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Some say they have gone through a transformational process, such as a major illness that has caused them to look at their life in a different way, Nahin says. Others believe dietary supplements are safer than prescription medication because they’re natural, even though that’s not necessarily the case, he says.

In other words, CAM is belief-based medicine, not science-based medicine, and here we appear to have a senior advisor from NCCAM admitting just that.

The second thing is that this article once again tries to make the claim that conventional, scientific medicine is “embracing” CAM by including a section discussing doctors and CAM. Of course, the interesting thing about this section is that it actually portrays physicians who practice CAM as being relatively uncommon, while representing one as being a “brave maverick doctor” who practices acupuncture. Even though I’ve seen doctors who practice acupuncture before (I’m talking to you, Brian Berman), I still can’t figure out the mental contortions and cognitive dissonance that must be necessary to make that happen. Still, in this article, we have a family practitioner named Dr. Rick Hobbs sticking needles into people to realign their qi. He’s even a kindly-appearing, bespectacled old guy wearing a bow tie! Can it get any more Norman Rockwell than that? Not without extreme difficulty or resurrecting Norman Rockwell himself to paint something.

Finally, CR’s Hands-on and mind-body therapies: A user’s guide is depressing to behold. First, one notes the classic bait and switch, where therapies that could be considered part of science-based medicine, such as massage, yoga (which is just gentle stretching exercise), and meditation (which is more or less relaxation) are represented as “alternative” and then lumped in with quackery (acupuncture) as though the quackery were equivalent. Chiropractic itself would be a form of physical therapy if it were stripped of its vitalistic woo. In other words, not only has CR apparently decided that pointless Internet surveys where the respondents are all self-selected are a valid way to assess the efficacy of therapies, even while in essence admitting that they are not, but it’s apparently bought into the pseudoscientific world view at the heart of CAM. Whether it did so through belief or cynically in order to pander to a large, woo-loving segment of its audience, I don’t know and don’t care. What I do know is that CR has in this article utterly failed its readers and betrayed its history of rigorous product testing.

I hope it was worth it for CR to shoot its own credibility in the foot with such abandon.

Posted in: Science and the Media

Leave a Comment (23) ↓

23 thoughts on “Consumer Reports drops the ball on alternative medicine

  1. windriven says:

    “The second thing is that this article once again tries to make the claim that conventional, scientific medicine is “embracing” CAM by including a section discussing doctors and CAM.”

    It is empirically evident that mainstream medicine is embracing quackery. A quick survey of the so-called CAM programs that are part of first rank medical schools and medical centers provides ample evidence.

    But Dr. Gorski specifically cited scientific medicine. That begs the question: what portion of physicians practice science based medicine? What portion practices, advocates or tolerates the quackery that is speciously labeled CAM? Which direction is the trend line running?

  2. Nikola says:

    Thanks for the analysis.
    Assessing medical efficacy through surveys? Hah, brilliant!

  3. Consumer Reports probably should stick to assessments of consumer products and leave the medical trials to the scientists. Comparing and contrasting the latest line of laptops is quite a different animal than comparing medical treatments.

    Nice to see that even in a sham of an experiment, science still comes out on top. Not that I’m at all surprised.

    I guess this further reveals alternative medicine to be a consumer product rather than a medical treatment.

  4. woo-fu says:

    @windriven

    Where I live (resort town) CAM seems to permeate most everything. We have so much about it is a major tourist attraction and source of revenue.

    I had at least three physicians recommend acupuncture to me for fibromyalgia and one prescribe deep tissue massage* and lots of supplements. I now have met more doctors who prescribe or practice untested/debunked treatments than doctors who don’t.

    Our local hospitals and health care systems are on board, too. This means lots of job growth in that sector. I don’t see any signs of this trend slowing unless something major, like a TAM conference, comes to town.

    *Deep tissue, neuromuscular massage not only improved my perception of pain–I didn’t need as much medication–but more objective measures of functioning such as my range of motion. I did have a very well-trained therapist with a good background in the science of physical therapy and massage. And, as Dr. Gorski asserts this is certainly within the domain of SBM.

    Unfortunately, it can be rather costly, and most of the settings where you can get it have plenty of other alternatives to tempt the wallet. Furthermore, finding a qualified massage therapist grounded in SBM is trickier than it should be, and a lot can go wrong. Massage is NOT without risk and is not a cure-all; a good therapist knows this and will disclose those risks before any work is done.

    @nobodyyouknow

    I guess this further reveals alternative medicine to be a consumer product rather than a medical treatment.

    That’s it in a nutshell.

  5. tmac57 says:

    Well ,Dr. Gorski, I hope that you took some time to write directly to the magazine about your concerns.CR does take complaints by their subscribers seriously. For those who aren’t aware of it, CR has a publication called onHealth that generally has very sound evidence based medical advice,so they do have some expertise in the medical field.Having said that,there have been times that I think they have strayed a bit too far into the CAM field a little credulously,and it always makes me cringe a little.
    On balance though,they still do a better job than 99% of other news sources in helping the average person understand the latest information about health issues,and they do try to follow evidence and science based methods in evaluating that information in my opinion.

  6. wlondon says:

    Thanks for writing this important critique.

    I have one quibble. You wrote: “I’d choose chiropractors who function primarily as physical therapists.”

    While chiropractors often provide some of the same treatments used by physical therapists, we should not give the impression (as I’m afraid I might have done in a recent talk) that chiropractors are qualified to provide the variety of services that physical therapists provide. Chiropractic offices are not equipped the way physical therapy offices need to be equipped.

    Chiropractors who reject all chiropractic woo have a difficult time staying in business as chiropractors. Those who want to be science-based practitioners have no easy path to changing careers to become physical therapists.

  7. Squillo says:

    My (anecdotal) experience in dealing with CR reporters is that they have little understanding of science. The few I have spoken with (about outcomes, risks and benefits of certain surgical procedures) really wanted black and white answers (“How often does X happen?”) without wanting to put those answers in any kind of perspective (“don’t tell me ’bout no confounders”).

    It’s a model that may work fairly well for less complex topics, but for medicine it can be tremendously misleading.

    @tmac57–it’s good to know that the “Onhealth” editors are more astute; I only spoke with writers for the general magazine, IIRC.

  8. oragette says:

    Thank You for bringing this up, my renewal was up, hard to renew when they publish this type of junk! Also, sent them a comment.

  9. art malernee dvm says:

    The veterinarians on the internet forms were saying negative things about the july 2011 CR article titled Tame your pet Cost. I have in the past enjoyed the CR veterinarian cost articles as spot on but this july pet issue troubled me because the article promoted unproven medical veterinary care.
    art malernee dvm

  10. Jann Bellamy says:

    Very pleased to see a great critique of this deeply flawed Consumer Reports article. I’ve been an on-line subscriber for a number of years and am thinking of not renewing unless they clean up their act. A separate “Consumer Reports Health” on-line publication has a “Natural Health” section that suffers from many of the same deficits as this article — some good advice (“beware of unregulated dietary supplements”) combined with some very bad advice (consider an “integrative medicine” practitioner, with a link to the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine).

    One woman in the survey receives monthly “adjustments” from her chiropractor — this almost surely refers to “maintenance care,” a shameful fraud perpetrated by chiropractors who claim that frequent checkups are necessary to detect and correct subluxations and thereby maintain health. Why doesn’t CR mention this deception, which even some chiropractors decry? It’s as if the NY Times Business Section were reporting on persons who were satisfied with their participation in multi-level marketing schemes without ever mentioning the risks and potential for fraud in the article. (A few years ago, I would have used the Wall St. Journal as my example, but not any more.)

    I think Dr. Gorski is being too generous in saying chiropractic could be “a form of physical therapy if it were stripped of its vitalistic woo.” Chiropractic stripped of its vitalistic woo leaves nothing. Chiropractors “adjust”/”manipulate” to reduce the non-existant subluxation. Physical therapists manipulate to increase range of motion and relieve pain. Chiropractors may perform manipulation-based physical therapy, but in doing so they are not practicing “chiropractic.” The increasing use of the term “chiropractic care” (as in the CR article) appears to be an attempt by the chiropractic industry to paper over this difference and avoid use of the “S” word.

  11. libby says:

    @ David Gorski:

    In terms of efficacy, pharma products performed very well. So why are so many turning to less effective alternative treatments?

    People are not turning away from conventional medicine because they don’t think it works, but because they have a mistrust of the system. They believe that they are putting themselves in danger by taking a drug, and are looking for alternatives which they believe are safer. In some cases they are, in some cases not.

    If SBM and its adherents are interested in battling the competition effectively, the best way would be to establish a policy of integrity within the system. It’s not enough for SBM to display the banner of real science to attract the flocks when that is not the issue.

    So what can doctors do?

    - Support the Sunshine in Litigation Act which prevents drug companies from concealing safety concerns through the courts,
    - Refuse gifts from drug companies, and request that gifts not be offered,
    - For the present, encourage drug companies to test their products sufficiently to reduce injuries, deaths, and the number of recalls,
    - For the future, propose a new system of drug testing that would require an independent clinic to examine the drugs, creating distance between testing and profit. The independent clinic would be responsible for submitting the test documents to the FDA.

  12. rwk says:

    Jann Bellamy is looking to pick a fight again.

    One woman in the survey receives monthly “adjustments” from her chiropractor — this almost surely refers to “maintenance care,” a shameful fraud perpetrated by chiropractors who claim that frequent checkups are necessary to detect and correct subluxations and thereby maintain health.

    No different than having a monthly or more often massage. The only problem would be if chiropractors pushed people into coming in by promising results for other than Musculoskeletal problems. So you can complain about those chiropractors but not all or even generalize.

    JB says Chiropractic stripped of its vitalistic woo leaves nothing”.
    -In your opinion only. They do use their hands like PTs DOs and
    anyone else who practices manual medicine.

    JB says Chiropractors “adjust”/”manipulate” to reduce the non-existant subluxation.
    Really? They all do that?
    The General Chiropractic Council of the U.K. advises against diagnosis and treatment based on vertebral subluxation complexes.
    These 3 North American schools do not mention the term subluxation in their academic catalogs:
    Southern California University of Health Sciences,
    Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College and
    National University of Health Sciences.

    JB says Physical therapists manipulate to increase range of motion and relieve pain.
    How do you know how many PTs do this? As a matter of fact many
    PTs who actually do ” manipulate” learn to do so at weekend seminars.
    For example;
    http://www.physical-therapy-clinic.com/physical-therapy-continuing-education-whats-the-best-way-to-learn-spinal-manipulation.html

    JB says Chiropractors may perform manipulation-based physical therapy, but in doing so they are not practicing “chiropractic.”

    Then DOs are generally not osteopaths and are not practicing osteopathy right? They should change their name right?
    Are there DO,DC,MD,PT,RN etc ways of performing a standard
    medical examination JB?

    Spinal Manipulation belongs to many healthcare professional
    groups who all share many of the same technics.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spinal_manipulation

    To all reasonable SBM readers, Jan Bellamy doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

    1. Harriet Hall says:

      @rwk,

      Please explain the value of maintenance adjustments. You compare it to massage. Is there any health value to monthly massage? Is maintenance chiropractic only intended as a feel-good measure? Can you cite any evidence that regular maintenance adjustments improve patient outcomes?

      You rightly say that other healthcare professionals do spinal manipulation. Since others can do manipulation, what do chiropractors do that makes them “chiropractors” as opposed to providers of spinal manipulation?

  13. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    Libby:

    People are not turning away from conventional medicine because they don’t think it works, but because they have a mistrust of the system. They believe that they are putting themselves in danger by taking a drug, and are looking for alternatives which they believe are safer. In some cases they are, in some cases not.

    CAM is certainly safer than actual medicine because it carries almost no biological effect therefore almost no risk (exceptions for acupuncture and chiropractic). The “harm” of CAM comes when people substitute it for real medicine. When it’s used as a “supplement” or “complement” normally the only risks are to one’s bank account and the ability to think critically.

    Your comment actually illustrates this – people are lazy and prefer a simple narrative of “drug companies are evil” over “companies make products cheaper and more convenient to acquire but are motivated by profit and not concern over individual well-being”. The only reason people don’t mistrust the CAM system more is because the interventions are biologically inert and the potential for harm is considerably less therefore fewer people suffer from ill effects. Not to mention there is zero oversight on CAM so there’s no government body that gathers and analyzes statistics on the adverse effects of CAM. CAM gets a free pass on regulation but is still motivated by money (when was the last time your CAM practitioner gave you a free treatment?) making it hypocritical and bizarre that people cry “Big Pharma” but don’t cry “Big Needle/Sugar/Herbal/Vitamin”.

    If SBM and its adherents are interested in battling the competition effectively, the best way would be to establish a policy of integrity within the system. It’s not enough for SBM to display the banner of real science to attract the flocks when that is not the issue.

    Have you noted how many are links to criticisms of pharmaceutical companies like Steve Novella’s post on The Neurontin Seeding Trial? The failings in real medicine do not in any way justify the success of CAM. There should be support for strong regulation of all medical interventions, no support for unproven interventions, and a way of monitoring and following-up on attempts to cheat the system. This should apply to CAM and to real medicine. CAM isn’t competition, it’s pseudoscience sold to an uncritical public. It’s a waste of money, both in terms of direct costs of health care and in terms of research funding.

    For the present, encourage drug companies to test their products sufficiently to reduce injuries, deaths, and the number of recalls,

    …as opposed to what people do now? The issue is one of rare side effects – if you give a drug to a thousand people with a single condition, side effects which appear in 1/10,000 are unlikely to show up; side effects due to interaction with other conditions are unlikely to show up. Libby, are you willing to support either direct subsidies to drug company research or put up with more expensive drugs that take longer to get to market? Control comes at a price, and most people with currently untreatable conditions would be extremely upset if they had to wait an extra five years and pay an extra $10,000 to get a new and potentially effective treatment. Reality is complicated, not simple.

    Also, do you support a similar system for CAM, or does it get a free pass still?

    For the future, propose a new system of drug testing that would require an independent clinic to examine the drugs, creating distance between testing and profit. The independent clinic would be responsible for submitting the test documents to the FDA.

    I had a suggestion that drug companies deposit their new medications and the cost required for funding with a third-party who then distributes the funds and supplies to independent universities for testing, so perhaps we agree for once. Again though, you face complications – the most expert people to test a new drug would probably already have ties to pharmaceutical manufacturers simply because that’s the reality of things. There’s no perfect system, and any that we devise will have people attempting to work around, under and through it.

  14. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    The Neurontin Seeding Trial should be linked to this post at SBM:

    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/the-neurontin-seeding-trial/

    WordPress needs a preview system.

  15. Chris says:

    libby:

    People are not turning away from conventional medicine because they don’t think it works, but because they have a mistrust of the system. They believe that they are putting themselves in danger by taking a drug, and are looking for alternatives which they believe are safer. In some cases they are, in some cases not.

    Actually, that is not always true. I knew someone whose regular doctors would tell her to get out of the house and take walks, to work on making her diet better (the only vegetable she would eat was corn).

    She suffered from chronic pain, and it was just very hard for her to get motivated to move. She even spent a few weeks at Pain Clinic which was like a “How to manage pain day camp” at a hospital. Her mother and I attended their open house where they explained very carefully that chronic pain is very difficult and they worked at weaning sufferers from the pills and into activity.

    Still it was very difficult for her to actually get up an move. She mostly wanted to sit quietly in a dark room, because moving made it hurt more (though the theory was to retrain the muscles and the brain with exercise). So she went online to find other magic cures. She bought supplements, natural sleep aids, special light bulbs, books and rid her house of certain shampoos (that last bit baffled us). She had more bottles of pills than anyone I knew.

    There are problems that folks who practice real medicine admit to having limitations, while the alternative guys claim they have the answers. When, in fact, they don’t. This is something those of us with disabled children often encounter. My son’s neurologist admitted that he did not know why my kid had seizures and issues with speech, while some “chiropractic neurologist” told me that cranial sacral therapy could cure him! Another parent explains it with Mr. Know-it-all.

  16. Doc, thanks for the review. I’m particularly disturbed because CR was the key consumer publication in the 1990s that called BS on the state of herbal dietary supplements. They were among the first to show that some botanical supplements, even if they had the potential for a beneficial effect, varied as much as 20-fold in bioactive chemicals.

    In examining alternative medicine as a purely consumer issue, I can think of few other areas other than cosmetic products that are a greater waste of money.

  17. mdcatdad says:

    I wonder how acupuncturists know how to “align qi”. To know the correct way, they have to be sure they’re not doing it the wrong way. And what is that?

    Chiropractors, calling themselves “doctors” have been placing ads in the Washington Post with increasing frequency claiming to be able to treat diabetes and other illnesses

  18. JPZ says:

    @David Gorski

    “True, I haven’t always agreed with CR’s rankings of products and services about which I know a lot, but at the very least CR has often made me think about how much of my assessments are based on objective measures and how much on subjective measures.”

    So, CR does the gold standard of testing based on hypothesized outcomes of interest to consumers – in essence, engineering-based product studies. Is your disagreement with CR based on your own studies, published studies, or upon your own knowledge of the mechanisms based on your EE/ME training? You do realize that your subjective beliefs do not jive with evidence-based engineering. ;)

    Sorry about that, David. I think many of us come across like this when dealing with somewhat informed “true believers,” and it is rare that we can pull out the mirror and look at ourselves (myself included). I agree that CR is foolish to venture into any area where they have no expertise, and the customer satisfaction survey they produced (that is what we call it in industry) is not a basis for product efficacy evaluation. But, as you pointed out, it says a lot about how people feel about efficacious treatments compared to CAM in their convenience sample.

  19. Albert Macfarlane says:

    David,
    Consumer Reports takes its time reaching Canada, so I have just caught up with this issue.
    You are being a little unfair to this group, which has limited financial support. Their very name indicates that they depend on reports from consumers for much of their data: for example, they provide frequency of repair statistics for many common household items – which may be the closest you can get to this kind of information. Manufacturers will never release this, and government at various levels cannot afford to do what might be called minor scientific testing. When serious events occur (ie auto crashes), government may force manufacturers to issue a recall, but that doesn’t help the consumer facing a major purchase. SBM has correctly identified the pathetic failure of governments in all countries to scientifically assess CAM – including NCCAM in the States.
    You can rightly criticise CR for attempting to assess alternative therapies by a reader survey, but the results are in truth quite interesting. Chronic back and neck pain are common, rarely due to fatal pathology, and seem to be difficult for science based medicine to help. Fibromyalgia (a nebulous diagnosis) is unsurprisingly reported to be helped equally by both massage and prescription drugs. All other nine complaints were best helped by prescription drugs.
    I agree that the commentary by CR on this little study could be more circumspect. Does SBM now intend to test toasters ?

  20. Snookums says:

    And they recently told pregnant women that retinyl palmate in sunscreen causes birth defects.

    http://news.consumerreports.org/health/2011/05/new-advice-for-pregnant-women-when-choosing-sunscreens.html

    They should stick to rating toasters.

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