Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations Medicine and the Media

Press repeats journal’s hype over acupuncture

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: (Published 20 July 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d4606
  1. Margaret McCartney, general practitioner, Glasgow
  1. margaret{at}

The British Journal of General Practice overstated a recent study’s findings about use of the alternative treatment in patients with unexplained symptoms, and the UK media repeated these flawed claims, notes Margaret McCartney

The new look British Journal of General Practice used big cover-page text last month to announce one study. “ACUPUNCTURE effective in a randomised trial for patients with unexplained symptoms,” it shouted in bright yellow, exciting a febrile press further by telling them that acupuncture “showed an improvement in health status and wellbeing that was sustained for 12 months.” The paper was kept behind subscription gates, and even the abstract was unavailable on PubMed at the time of writing.

The press lapped it up. The Daily Telegraph said that “acupuncture has significant impact on mystery illnesses” and quoted one patient as saying, “The energy is the main thing I have noticed. You know, yeah, it’s marvellous!”1 The Mirror agreed, saying, “A study of 80 people suffering aches and pains for which GPs could find no explanation, found they felt significantly better after 26 weeks of the therapy. It gave them a surge of …

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