Day 70. Trusting information

In October 2012 on October 21, 2012 at 6:01 pm

Language and terminology can have a large impact on whether information is perceived to be trustworthy.

Yesterday I came across this paragraph on a website selling skin moisturiser to treat eczema.  The text was under the heading ‘clinical trial’:

The effect of the cream emulsion was observed by a user who after years of suffering from severe eczema found relief from the application of the cream emulsion referred to in this invention. The sufferer of this severe eczema was a 26 year old woman, whom upon application of the cream emulsion including the active ingredient of coconut oil, led to the relief of the skin disorder eliminating the itching and weeping as well as returning the skin discoloration back to normal.

Immediately I had two issues:

  1. This is not a clinical trial.
    This is a case study report from a single patient. Clinical trials involve large numbers of patients who receive a new treatment or a placebo or an existing treatment.  To reduce bias, neither the patients nor the people running the trial know which treatment one each person is receiving.  At the completion of the study, statistical analysis is conducted to assess whether that the new treatment had an effect over and above that of the placebo, or was better or worse than the existing treatment. Clinical trials are the gold standard in proving treatment efficacy, and labelling a case study as a clinical trial is deceptive.
  2. Why on earth have the authors chosen to write in such ridiculously difficult language?
    Could it be that they are trying to add some sort of medico-technical flavour to the case report? The following sentence contains all the information presented in the paragraph above, without hiding behind confusing terms and complex structures:
    ‘A 26-year old woman suffering from severe eczema featuring skin itching, weeping and discolouration found the coconut oil emulsion cream offered relief from her symptoms’.

It’s OK to be critical of information, double-check terminology and question the motives behind marketing and reporting.

[image thanks to vagawi on flickr]


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