Thursday, 27 September 2007

Ear candling - the BBC's dustier corners

I mentioned in the previous post that the BBC's Complementary Medicine health section had been revised. I still think it's inferior to Channel 4's (which for every therapy has a prominent "what's the evidence?" paragraph that isn't afraid to say when there's none). But at least the BBC section shows evidence of editorial standards and some attempt at neutrality within the text; even though there's a disclaimer at the foot, they don't just use it as token balance to unchecked expositions of every weird therapy.
      I'm sorry to say that once you get away from the main sections on the BBC website, it all changes. I was just looking at BBC South East Wales Mind, Body and Spirit, and the standards there are at about the level of local free advertorial leaflets. A particular offender is the Hopi Ear Candling page, in which "Laura Warren, a complementary health practitioner in Cardiff, offers some tips about one of her specialities". This appears to offer a) free advertising for her service; b) free advertising for the merits of a product she uses, Biosun candles ("one of the only EU standard candles on the market"), and c) a factually untrue exposition on the action of ear candles ("The candle creates a mild suction which lets the vapours gently massage the eardrum and auditory canal. Once the candle is placed in the ear it forms a seal which enables wax and other impurities to be drawn out of the ear").
      It's not difficult to find debunkings of ear candling. Check out Why Ear Candling Is Not a Good Idea, How do "ear candles" work?, Waxing sceptical, On Ear Cones and Candles, Listen up: Beware of the 'ear candle', and finally, from the journal Laryngoscope, a paper on ear candling injuries, Ear candles--efficacy and safety. As I said in the previous post, I doubt any complaint about factual accuracy will wash, but maybe the risk of injury will. The BBC Wales page has an extensive disclaimer at its foot, but I think that's a cop-out that doesn't absolve the BBC of hosting material that's blatant advertising and potentially dangerous. For the record (sent to BBC Complaints today):

Editorial standards / safety of material hosted
Hopi Ear Candling. Despite the disclaimer on what is obviously a personal view, I don't think it's acceptable for the BBC website to host such a one-sided view of the topic. It is:
a) A blatant advert for both Laura Warren and Biosun candles, a product she uses.
b) Factually inaccurate: the claim that ear candling sucks impurities from the ear has been widely debunked.
c) Potentially dangerous: see "Ear candles--efficacy and safety" in the journal Laryngoscope ("A survey of 122 otolaryngologists identified 21 ear injuries resulting from ear candle use. Ear candles have no benefit in the management of cerumen and may result in serious injury").
I hope you will reconsider the hosting of this material.
Sincerely, Ray Girvan

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