Investigation

‘Fatally flawed’ review puts Aus research council’s methods in doubt

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Medicine

‘Fatally flawed’ review puts Aus research council’s methods in doubt
The methods of Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council have been panned after expert opinion branded its review of evidence on the effectiveness of homeopathy as “shoddy” and “fatally flawed” prior to its publication.

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has a statutory responsibility to provide advice on Australian public health matters, and is in the process of examining a number of alternative therapy claims.

To this end, it has conducted a review of published literature addressing the effectiveness of homeopathy with the aim to develop guidance to assist consumers in making informed decisions about their healthcare.

Homeopathy is defined by the World Health Organisation as the practice of using highly diluted preparations with the aim of treating illness. This 200-year-old form of alternative therapy is based on the belief that even though it is highly diluted, the molecules retain a “memory” of the original substance.

Laundry list of criticism

The NHMRC’s review concluded that “the assessment of the evidence from the research in humans does not show that homeopathy is effective for treating the range of health conditions considered​”.

However, documents released under Australia’s freedom of information laws show widespread criticism by a number of independent experts, who have called the NHMRC’s research into question, and expressed strong concerns over the methodology it council employed in the review.

The documents, seen by FoodNavigator-Asia​, show that the NHMRC excluded randomised controlled trials (RTC) from the review, ignored non-English studies, didn’t call on the opinions of experts and conducted selective research through a narrow choice of databases. 

In one redacted email response to the homeopathy working committee in January 2013, a member of the NHMRC’s complementary and alternative medicines team explained how the group had decided to ignore the data contained in one academic database because “it would incur additional costs to NHMRC”, despite conceding there was a possibility that other databases would add to quality of the review.

Out of a possible 1,367 studies available for examination, the council chose only to look at 61.

In another document, one correspondent whose name was redacted queried how systemic  the NHMRC’s review of high-quality RTCs had been.

For more than a decade, high-quality RTCs have been regarded as Level 1 evidence… The NHMRC’s decision not to adhere to a search of all Level 1 evidence as per international standards needs to be carefully explained and justified​,” the person wrote. 

The dismissal of positive SRs [systematic reviews] compounded with the lack of an independent systematic review of high-quality RCTs leaves me uncertain of the definitive nature of the report’s conclusions​.”

The correspondent added that he or she was concerned that no homeopathic expert was appointed by the review panel, as would happen in other disciplines.

Question mark over future reviews

Another commenter called on the NHMRC to explain why it made the decision to include only English publications within a specific period of 16 years instead of “the totality of relevant literature​”.

Carl Gibson of Complementary Medicines Australia was scathing of the “fatally flawed​” paper, saying: “A number of independent experts in the sector have expressed strong concerns with [its] methodology​.

The NHMRC failed to appoint a homeopathic expert to the review panel, left out randomised controlled trials, excluded all studies not published in English, and limited the choice of databases searched, which basically meant that the balance of complementary medicines specific content was omitted​.

No valid conclusions can be drawn from this review, except that the NHMRC has failed to uphold its own standards of ethics and quality research in this instance.​”

As the first of NHMRC investigations into evidence on complementary medicines, this has left Gibson concerned about other reviews in the series.

CMA questions how future reviews will be underpinned by best practice principles and conducted in a transparent manner​,” he said. 

The NHMRC has been approached for comment.

Related topics: Policy, Fortification, Oceania, Supplements

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5 comments

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"Asia" branding for relevance lost their relevance

Posted by sumi allen,

"Asia" should've insured their likeness and relevance when Sino Pharmaceuticals partnered with the Sick Cult of Metformin Worship when they patented "Metformin cures PCOS" (which it doesn't. PCOS Is caused by TOO MUCH INSULIN. Metformin raises insulin levels.)

Asians are REALLY f***ing stupid. PArasitic Baby beating b***es who only have meal tickets as anchor babies for the Visa sponsors and to send their kids' money to Asia where the ching chongs do drugs adn gamble it away when the poor meal ticket has no money for a college education.

Then trying to throw the meal ticket away in a garbage baby boomers' oil war for ARab mercenaries "for health insurance" (ice and Advil is way better health care than what bought off psychopathic doctors by big pharma for beyond premium prices has to offer in the U.S.)

You can "downgrade" holistics?
That just makes it more affordable for the people who figured out how to use (and not) use them.

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Disingenuous?

Posted by Stephen Fuller,

I refer readers to this article from The Conversation. Adherents to homeopathy may wish to believe that it is efficacious and that the NHMRC is unscientific and biased. But that doesn't make it so. https://theconversation.com/2014-a-bad-year-for-homoeopathy-35788

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business as usual

Posted by tanya marquette,

Dave Andrews --do you understand that this review agency is set up to prove what it wants to prove? The Codex Alimentarius, to which Austraiia is a signer, attacks all holistic protocols. It promotes drugs. The Codex demands all nation signers to change their local laws to conform to the Codex. This review committee/agency is doing this job. Its excuses are standard in the US and other countries that are pushing to destruction of public access to holistic healing protocols of their choice. Do you think any exercise in review will produce any other results than the bogus ones presented? Do you think such a group would fess up to duplicitous methodology for their underlying goal?

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