Tackling inaccurate and misleading reporting on science in the media

A story published on Saturday in The Times has provoked outrage amongst some Society members.

Dr Richard Quinton and Dr Channa Jayasena, two of our expert Media Ambassadors, contacted the Society Press Office to express their grave concerns over the article: The £195 hormone cream that’s changed my life by Olivia Falcon.

Both Dr Quinton and Dr Jayasena feel that this article is written and presented in an irresponsible way that is misleading to the reader, on a potentially unsafe and improperly tested product. The Society is committed to helping promote accurate and responsible reporting of endocrinology-related topics in the media, so we passed their concerns, in the form of the open letter below, to The Times.

Dear Editor

In 1916, a $20 fine was levied in Rhode Island, USA for the misbranding of Clark Stanley’s Snake Oil Liniment to treat rheumatism and bunions and animal bites. The term ‘snake oil salesman’ is still used today to describe someone who knowingly sells fraudulent goods. Anti-ageing products are in ever-increasing demand. Whereas, cosmetic (i.e. non-medicinal) products are established in the market, there is growing speculation that hormone (endocrine) supplementation could provide additional benefit for older men and women. However, it is critical to understand that products claiming to alter the endocrine (hormone) system should be termed drugs, and are quite rightly subject to rigorous safety regulation. Crucially, the websites from which Endo-Test cream can be purchased explicitly state that “it is for scientific or laboratory use only and not for human consumption”.

Endo-Test cream described in last Saturday’s edition claims to ‘increase testosterone levels dramatically’ and nearly double sperm count and The Times’ journalist reported that these claims were based on an independent study by the manufacturer. However, we were unable to find any evidence of scientific peer review or publication of these findings. Furthermore, there is currently no medication in existence known to increase a man’s sperm count, so the findings appear improbable.

Interestingly, whereas The Times’ journalist correctly described Endo-Test cream as a “hormone cream”, the AQ company website claims prominently that Endo-Test is “hormone-Free”. For the record, the cited ingredients include a human androgen (testosterone-precursor) hormone (DHEA), a major insect moulting hormone (20-hydroxyecdysone) and a synthetic hormone (Gonadorelin) whose clinical application in humans is to shut down reproductive hormones entirely for men with prostate cancer and women with endometriosis, or as part of hormone treatment of trans-gender individuals. The extent to which these are absorbed through the skin, as opposed to through their conventional routes of administration, has likewise not been substantiated. 

To protect the interests of the public, it is important that manufacturers make substantiated claims and that journalists scrutinise evidence of these claims prior to publication. Without this, how would people know whether or not ‘snake oil’ was indeed the fountain of youth?

Dr Richard Quinton MA MD FRCP, Consultant Endocrinologist, Newcastle-upon-Tyne Hospitals

Dr Channa N. Jayasena PhD FRCP FRCPath, Clinical Senior Lecturer in Endocrinology, Imperial College London

Declaration: Both are Investigators on the National Institute of Healthcare Research (NIHR) funded Testosterone Efficacy and Safety (TestES) Consortium, and Media Ambassadors for the Society for Endocrinology*

*Please note these views are of expert members Channa Jayasena and Richard Quinton, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Society for Endocrinology.

The Times is now looking into the matter and will report back to us on how this will be addressed shortly. Our Media Ambassadors have successfully worked with Health and Science correspondents at The Times in the past to ensure accurate and responsible reporting, and we look forward to continuing to work with them on endocrine-related stories in the future.

UPDATE 8 March 2019 – The Times have now taken this article down, we thank them for their assistance with this matter and taking this positive action.

The Society is committed to engaging journalists, patients and the public with hormone science to encourage informed health decisions, and to demonstrate the value of endocrinology to the wider world. Our Media Ambassadors are experts that work alongside the press office to help provide expertise, context and analysis to promote accurate and responsible reporting.

If you are interested in helping to improve the quality of science and health reporting, read our Media Ambassador guide or email media@endocrinology.org to find out how you can get involved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

One thought on “Tackling inaccurate and misleading reporting on science in the media

  1. Thank you to your media ambassadors for the excellent work on this article. We join your concern with misinformation and false claims plaguing social media and the web today. Pituitary World NEws applauds your initiative and we stand ready to collaborate in making sure this type of all too common misinformation happens less. This link is to a recent article on misinformation and bias and the susceptibility of social media groups to believe and advocate for false, erroneous, and sometimes dangerous information. – https://www.pituitaryworldnews.org/misinformation-and-bias-the-susceptibility-of-social-media-groups-to-believe-and-advocate-for-false-erroneous-and-sometimes-dangerous-information/

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