Posted by: Nicholas Swetenham | March 29, 2009

Anecdotal evidence triumphs again in the Daily Mail


Charles, Prince of Wales (Wikimedia Commons)

In the Daily Mail today, a report on Prince Charle’s Duchy Originals alternative medicines, which has already been blogged about by DC at Improbable Science. In today’s article

Prof Ernst, director of complementary medicine at the University of Exeter’s Peninsula Medical School, even accused Prince Charles of peddling ‘quackery’ and ignoring science to ‘rely on make-believe and superstition’.

He is right in a way – new medicines have to undergo rigorous clinical trials before going on the market. There have been no such trials on these tinctures and reports of their success are anecdotal.


I love how the author says he’s right ‘in a way’. As if being rational and scientific was a rather odd way of going about things. The author effectively treats anecdotal evidence almost on a par with randomised, controlled empirical evidence. 3 products are then discussed:

1. Detox preparation. The concept of ‘detox’ is accepted uncritically here. Ben at Bad Science will not be pleased. Notice the mysterious omission of the Cochrane review on artichoke leaf extract which no benefit in hypercholesterolaemia (which involves liver metabolism which is supposedly improved by this product), even though reviews are mentioned for the other two products.

2. A St John’s Wort preparation – this Cochrane review suggests some preparations may be better than placebo for major depression. Dr Nyokabi, mysteriously, recommends it for minor depression on this basis.

3. Echinacea – Dr Nyokabi mentions this Cochrane review saying it found Echinacea to be “beneficial”. It actually found some inconsistent evidence that some preparations “might” work. Hardly a resounding endorsement.

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