Academic journal article Health Sociology Review

Uncritical Reverence in CM Reporting: Assessing the Scientific Quality of Australian News Media Reports

Academic journal article Health Sociology Review

Uncritical Reverence in CM Reporting: Assessing the Scientific Quality of Australian News Media Reports

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The need for a higher quality of media reporting about medical research has been highlighted and discussed in many academic publications - including those from the disciplines of both biomedicine and social science. There is a consensus within this discourse on medical reporting that there is a lack of straightforward and accurate reporting of medical research in the media (Bubela et al 2006; Gerbner et al 1981; Karpf 1988; MacDonald and Hoffmn-Goetz 2002; Moynihan et al 2000; Oxman et al 1993; Schudson 2002; Schwartz and Woloshin 2004; Signoriellei 1993; Stryker 2002; Voss 2002; Wilson et al 2009; Woloshin and Schwartz 2006). The work of the national medical media monitoring organisation Media Doctor Australia1 highlights the nature of the shortcomings of health media reports in general, including complementary medicines (CM). Media Doctor Australia provides regular analyses and critiques of print, electronic and online reports about biomedical and complementary therapies and products.

The past two decades have witnessed a dramatic rise in popularity of CM usage in Australia and a subsequent and indeed inevitable process of marketisation and co-option of this form of healthcare. Australia, in contrast to the USA, uses the term 'complementary medicine' rather than 'complementary and alternative medicine' (CAM) as evidenced by the Offi ce of Complementary Medicines within the Therapeutic Goods Administration, Australia's national medicines regulator. It could be suggested that the lines of demarcation have blurred between some CM products, particularly vitamin, mineral, and herbal supplements, and pharmaceutical medicines. The relatively small and marginalised 'cottage industry' that was once a feature of CM manufacturing and retail (and herbal medicine products in particular) has entered the realm of pharmaceuticalstyle corporatism - the world of mergers and acquisitions (Collyer 2004:81-82). Like pharmaceutical medicines, these supplements are standardised, and often presented in a pill form that makes them as easy and unintrusive to ingest as possible. The commercialisation of CM has also necessitated its scientisation (Evans 2008a, 2008b; Jagtenberg and Evans 2003; Singer and Fisher 2007), a phenomenon that has been harnessed to CM for a range of reasons, some of which include legitimisation for those who use CM in their professional practice, enhancing the marketability of CM products, infl uencing governments and policymakers, and the expansion of research arenas in both public and private education institutions.

CM is a relative newcomer to the fi eld of biomedical research and the subsequent reporting of CM research outcomes in the media. There has been limited academic discussion of the way in which CM research news is reported in both mainstream media and biomedical literature, as highlighted in a scoping review of CM in the mass media (Weeks and Strudsholm 2008).

Reporting on the outcomes of CM research projects is not consistent in the mainstream news media and does not represent the majority of news reporting about CM (Bubela et al 2008:2). This may be because of a tendency amongst medical journalists to favour peer-reviewed medical journals as a major source of information (van Trigt et al 1994:639) and these journals do not regularly publish CM research articles. There are varying suggestions as to why this is the case - for example, rejections by the journals due to problems of quality in the research (i.e. that does not meet the requirements of biomedical research), the rise in CM publications that are peer-reviewed, the favouring of research with negative results, or even publishing bias against CM articles generally (Barnes and Harkness 1999; Bubela et al 2006; Resch et al 1997). A 2008 study on herbal medicines trials reported in the newspapers in Canada, UK, US, Australia and New Zealand found that newspaper coverage of herbal remedy clinical trials was more negative in tone to that of pharmaceutical trials (Bubela et al 2008:1). …

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