Tiny Magnets, Tiny Minds

Just when I thought the Daily Mail was reducing the number of stupid health stories that it was publishing, it comes up with a classic. Once again, the Daily Mail has been duped into advertising quack products.

The story entitled, “Tiny magnet that soothes the misery of menopause” is a full on bit of brainless reporting of a marketing press release issued by a company that makes questionable magnet healing products.

Magnopulse has been recently criticised by the Office of Fair Trading for making baseless claims for its magnet products. It is obviously finding its routes to market a little more difficult now, but who cares if the Daily Mail will uncritically publish stories about you, complete with sales telephone numbers and web addresses.

The article reports how our old friend Nyjon Eccles, a ‘Harley Street physician’ conducted the ‘study’ by asking 508 women to stick one of the company’s magnets down their pants and then asked them how they felt about it. Avoiding the obvious jokes, the study is obviously flawed, being unpublished, un-peer-reviewed, uncontrolled and basically designed to give a positive result to Magnepulse.

The menopause is a self-limiting condition. It doesn’t last forever. The women in the test looked like they were self-selecting and they probably responded to an advert for the help of the company when their symptoms were particularly bad. You wouldn’t do this sort of thing when you are OK. Over the months of the test, it is unlikely that symptoms would get dramatically worse since they were already bad. By far the most likely outcome is that you will feel some improvement – whether the magnet works or not. This is called ‘regression to the mean’ and is a common way that people can be tricked into thinking that quackery works – you seek help at the height of your discomfort. That is why you need to control this sort of test with some sort of placebo and without such a control the results are meaningless and misleading. This is basic stuff and any Harley Street physician ought to know this

The journalist who wrote the article is not named, but here is a quick checklist for future journalistic adventures of this sort, if they want to refrain from being a simple quack’s shill:

  • magnet + health = quackery
  • a study like this without adequate controls will undoubtedly give a positive result to the quack
  • Google is great tool for finding out about a company’s history
  • products that claim to treat all sorts of symptoms are usually quack products
  • unpublished trials, that are announced to the press, are usually fishing for favourable write-ups by journalists who wouldn’t know whether to stick the magnet down their pants or attach it to their elbow.
  • when ‘many doctors remain sceptical’ there is probably a good reason for it. Finding out why might make your article a little more balanced.

On the other hand, the journalist could be a knowing shill.

4 Comments on Tiny Magnets, Tiny Minds

  1. This sounds very similar to a magnet thingy that was sold some years ago (it was certainly around when I was first diagnosed, so 1992-4 ish) that was supposed to “cure” ME/CFS. I’m sorry, I can’t remember the name of it right now. I have half a feeling that it was also supposed to cure cancer, and that’s how it got withdrawn. I think Dr Charles Shepherd (Med Adviser to the ME Association) was involved with getting it withdrawn under the law against selling things as cancer cures.

    Don’t know if you watch Dragon’s Den (BBC2), there was a good one on there tonight of a woman looking for £60,000 to set up an online “sort of” counselling system based on NLP (she wasn’t terribly clear exactly what it was she was trying to sell). It screamed quack quack quack to me, and I was very pleased to see the Dragons took that line too.

    Best wishes from Liverpool

  2. This moron is doing it again! He’s selling Ladycare, which is the same old magnet menopause healing rubbish under another name! Apparently even being promoted on Loose Women, a talk show on uk TV. Don’t they check anything!?

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