Consumer Reports and Woo
Posted: 07 August 2011 01:46 PM   [ Ignore ]
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If you haven’t been aware of it, the usually dependable Consumer Reports magazine has published a decidedly credulous report on Alt Med. Good writeups of the issue on Science Based Medicine HERE and on Quackwatch’s Chirobase HERE.

NB: from Quackwatch:

Quackwatch has added Consumer Reports to
its list of nonrecommended periodicals in the category headed
“Magazines, Excellent Except for Too Many Poorly Reasoned Articles on
“Complementary” and/or “Alternative” Medicine.”
http://www.quackwatch.org/04ConsumerEducation/nonrecperiodicals.html

I should add that though Dr. Barrett has felt in the past that CR did a decent job with quackery, I’ve found the opposite often to be the case.

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Posted: 08 August 2011 06:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Yeah, I saw that. CR lost me a few years ago when I bought a set of cheap knives on their recommendation, and they’ve been sending me emails since my subscription lapsed, begging me to resubscribe. After seeing about their woo endorsement I sent their customer service an email explaining why I left and letting them know I will not support a publication that endorses Supplementary Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The only reply so far was an automatic reply thanking me for contacting customer service.

AARP’s magazine did something similar last summer. I wrote a letter to the editor expressing my disappointment. The letter never appeared in the magazine.

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Posted: 08 August 2011 06:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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DarronS - 08 August 2011 06:00 AM

Yeah, I saw that. CR lost me a few years ago when I bought a set of cheap knives on their recommendation, and they’ve been sending me emails since my subscription lapsed, begging me to resubscribe. After seeing about their woo endorsement I sent their customer service an email explaining why I left and letting them know I will not support a publication that endorses Supplementary Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The only reply so far was an automatic reply thanking me for contacting customer service.

AARP’s magazine did something similar last summer. I wrote a letter to the editor expressing my disappointment. The letter never appeared in the magazine.

In general CR is a good organization, and I am entirely in agreement with the way they run things: with no advertising, no free samples from companies, and with every attempt to buy products the same ways that consumers do. They are also generally good at doing testing, but you do have to read the fine print carefully. Sometimes they test products in ways that end up not being the way one would use the product oneself. E.g., they downgraded a good sunscreen for not being water resistant. That’s OK if you’re using it for swimming, but if you’re not, it makes no difference to you. Etc.

They also do have lapses from time to time, and should be called out on them.

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Posted: 08 August 2011 10:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Agreed, Doug. I have been subscribing to their online service for a few years and before that I bought the magazine. I was disappointed by their granting of legitimacy to “alternative” treatments but am hopeful that this isn’t the start of a trend. Maybe if enough of us express our outrage (I already have) it will have an impact.

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Posted: 10 August 2011 05:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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The problem with consumer reports is that while they are not indebted to advertisers, they are indeed indebted to their subscribers. More an more the public has come to accept and even demand alternative treatments and meds. CR wants to keep its readership and stay relevant so in cases such as this they have sold their soul to those who pay the bills. It was really a very poorly done piece. I wrote a letter to the editor but have found as a long time subscriber that CR rarely accepts letters from anyone who really challenges them. Too bad really as its an otherwise good publication if somewhat limited at times

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Posted: 10 August 2011 07:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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macgyver - 10 August 2011 05:49 PM

The problem with consumer reports is that while they are not indebted to advertisers, they are indeed indebted to their subscribers. More an more the public has come to accept and even demand alternative treatments and meds. CR wants to keep its readership and stay relevant so in cases such as this they have sold their soul to those who pay the bills. It was really a very poorly done piece. I wrote a letter to the editor but have found as a long time subscriber that CR rarely accepts letters from anyone who really challenges them. Too bad really as its an otherwise good publication if somewhat limited at times

Agreed. FWIW I wrote them one as well. Doubt it will make a difference, but I’d suppose that if enough people write them reasoned objections, they may take a little more care in the future to actually do an investigation that helps consumers rather than quacks.

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Posted: 28 August 2011 06:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Just got a response back from them on the form I filled out (I assume this is something everyone who wrote them will get. If you see something different let us know). It’s from the ‘customer relations department’:

Thank you for taking the time to contact Consumer Reports®.  I want to express how much we value your choice of our products and services to help you make informed purchasing decisions.

We appreciate your writing to us regarding our report on alternative therapies.  Please be assured that our readers’ feedback plays a strong role in the work that we do.  Because of this I have taken the liberty of personally sharing your feedback with the appropriate members of our staff for their review and future consideration.

The “Alternative Therapies” article in the Sept. 2011 edition of Consumer Reports is the third survey-based report on alternative treatments we’ve done. As stated clearly in the article, the evaluation of the helpfulness of these treatments is based on respondents’ personal perceptions, not on clinical trials.

To supplement this information, we also provided background on what good clinical research shows about alternative remedies for various conditions. 

We have done similar surveys for other conditions, such as back pain (chiropractors were the best-liked providers in that survey, too), hip and knee replacement, and ADHD treatment.  We have learned that patient experience provides valuable information for consumers about matters such as recuperation, pain relief, the ability to set realistic expectations, and the comparison of different treatments (something that is often sadly lacking in clinical trial data).

We clearly pointed out that the study cannot account for the placebo effect, and it’s also important to note that to the extent the placebo effect was in play, it was in play for all the treatments we asked about, and yet some treatments clearly emerged as winners from the patients’ point of view.

Consumer Reports is committed to making your experience positive and informative.

Sincerely,

Carlos Macias
Representative
Customer Relations Department

Now, this is a non-response. The argument, such as it is, seems to be:

(1) we’ve this sort of thing before (so much the worse).

(2) it provides “valuable information” (which it demonstrably does not)

(3) it “cannot account for the placebo effect” (which is in play for all therapies anyhow so is irrelevant).

(4) some of the quack therapies were better liked than others (so what if they don’t actually work?)

It strikes me as a response written by a marketing person, perhaps in distant contact with one of the original authors. Having said that, I’m actually surprised I got any response at all, particularly one that was semi-substantive, at least from a marketing perspective. I have to assume that’s because they got rather a lot of high-level feedback and have prepared a general answer.

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Posted: 28 August 2011 07:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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With the emphasis on the patient’s point of view, it sounds like they’re confusing patient happiness with medical results. The two concepts are related, but they’re not the same, and as we all know, virtually all ‘alternative medicine’ practicioners take advantage of category errors like this. Perhaps they need an analogy like this:

Patient A takes medication A for their disease, which causes serious nausea and loss of energy, but cures the disease.
Patient B takes morphine, which makes them happy, but the patient eventually dies from said disease.

If we rate patient satisfaction before Patient A is cured and before Patient B dies, clearly Patient B wins the satisfaction ‘point of view.’

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Posted: 28 August 2011 07:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Well put, TA.

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Posted: 30 August 2011 03:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Just more of the rising tide of popularity of such “therapies.” I remember when it was rare to see a positive spin on CAM in the mainstream media, but it’s routine now. Scientific truth is not a popularity contest, but almost every other aspect of the way in which CAM is promoted, discussed, and legislated is, unfortunately. It does make one wonder about the reliability of CR’s other evaluations.

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