This Monday, the Guardian published an article regarding the supposed benefits of osteopathy for treating asthma and pneumonia. Although I know other people have complained about this (see here and here), I was genuinely appalled and felt I should put in complaints of my own. (Though I must also point out that in between my complaints being sent and me posting this, the Guardian have published this informative (online) take-down.)
I believe Monday’s article was inaccurate, misleading and a blatant piece of advertising. I have therefore complained to the Advertising Standards Authority and the Press Complaints Commission.
I also wrote to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org to say:
I write to express concern at an article published in yesterday’s Guardian entitled ‘The inside track on osteopathy’, which strongly implied that osteopathy may be used as an effective treatment for asthma and pneumonia. Since this is not the case, I find the article of great concern.
As far as I’m aware, there is no robust scientific evidence to demonstrate the benefit of osteopathy in treating either asthma or pneumonia. A Cochrane review of manual forms of therapy (eg osteopathy) as a treatment for asthma concluded that ‘there is insufficient evidence to support the use of manual therapies for patients with asthma’.
Yesterday’s article mentions a study where ‘elderly patients who received osteopathic treatment after being admitted to hospital with pneumonia needed less antibiotics and recovered more quickly’. After having read this study, I do not believe this is true. The paper shows that patients who received osteopathic treatment did not recover any more quickly or receive ‘less antibiotics’ than the control group. Both (osteopathy & control) groups fared very slightly better (in terms of length of hospital stay and duration of antibiotic treatment) than those receiving only conventional care. This could have been down to either the placebo effect or to the expectations of hospital staff (who would have been making decisions regarding length of stay and antibiotic treatment).
Osteopathy has been shown to be effective for some conditions (such as back pain). It is therefore sometimes used within conventional medicine and has a better reputation that most other complementary therapies. It is therefore likely that someone reading an article such as this in a reputable newspaper such as the Guardian would be inclined to believe it. To many readers, this lends undeserved credibility to osteopaths such as Ben Katz. To sceptical readers such as myself, I feel this is article is damaging to the reputation of the Guardian.
Asthma and pneumonia are both serious conditions which require conventional medical treatment. Although I do not believe the article was suggesting otherwise, I feel the Guardian should take seriously any article regarding them and do some simple fact-checking before running a story. It was not difficult for me to find the papers showing a lack of evidence for osteopathy as a suitable treatment for either of the conditions mentioned.
As the article was clearly and uncritically promoting Ben Katz, I believe it was a form of advertising. I also believe the article was making misleading and unsubstantiated claims. I have therefore complained to the Advertising Standards Authority.
Since I do not think you have taken adequate care not to publish inaccurate and misleading information, I therefore believe the article was in breach of the Press Complaints Commission Editors’ Codes for Accuracy. I will be submitting a complaint to the PCC shortly.
I have provided links below to the article itself and the papers I have mentioned.
I look forward to your response.