The Globe and Mail took a bit of flak last week for a “Health Advisor” blog post by a homeopath on “Eight easy, natural ways to keep the flu at bay.”
Today, the Globe‘s public editor Sylvia Stead issued a mea culpa of sorts. In her article, she noted that the blog post had “garnered criticism” in six of the eight comments posted to it and on social media. The criticisms were that the recommendations of Bruce Wylde, the blogger in question — including raw onion juice, honey, garlic, probiotics and an “immune-boosting” soup containing astragalus root, shiitake mushrooms, onions and tumeric — lacked evidence.
“I think there should be a bias toward medical professionals writing about medicine and, while there is room for some coverage on alternative or homeopathic treatments, care should be taken to always balance such coverage with a doctor’s or other medical professional’s experience and expertise,” Stead wrote in the column titled “Homeopath’s advice needs to be balanced.”
She noted two other aspects of the blog post that the Globe might have handled differently. The first was to have included different links in the “More related to this story” box that accompanied the offending article — links (to previous Globe articles) that would “balance the homeopath’s advice with a medical professional’s advice.” The top three links, provided at the end of the article, were unrelated to flu but dealt with learning to dream, outdoor fun and “good germs.” (In fact, the three links that appeared higher up, in the middle of the original blog post, concerned keeping New Year’s resolutions, stress urinary incontience and exercises that allow women to continue wearing high heels.)
“In my view,” Stead wrote, “the top link should have been this article: ‘As a doctor, I’ve seen why vaccination is a “no brainer,” ’ ” by Dr. Jeremy Friedman, chief of pediatric medicine and associate paediatrician-in-chief at the Hospital for Sick Children, and professor of pediatrics at the University of Toronto.
Dr. Friedman was identified just that way in italics at the end of his article. Wylde’s italicized bio was not so informative, although Stead seemed to feel it was: “The article properly sets ‘Health Advisor’ in context, saying this is a blog where contributors share their knowledge. At the bottom in italics is an explanation of the credentials of the writer so that readers will see this person is not a medical doctor but rather an alternative-medicine expert.”
“A homeopath’s advice does not need to be balanced — it needs to be ignored” — Globe and Mail reader
But some physicians are also experts in alternative medicine, and Wylde’s bio failed to make clear that he was not an MD. He was billed as “a complementary alternative medicine (CAM) expert, clinician and associate medical director at P3 Health in Toronto.”
“Clinician” and “associate medical director” doesn’t say “homeopath” to me. I suppose what followed might have been a clue: “He is a television host, author, and a medical adviser on Citytv and the Dr Oz show.”
The bio provided a link to Wylde’s website where one also has to search for his credentials. There is no mention of homeopathy on his home page. Under an “About” tab, he finally tells where he’s coming from. Under a 35-point headline, billing him as “alternative medicine expert, clinician, television host, educator, author, and philanthropist,” he writes in 13-point type that he has a Diploma in Homeopathic Medicine and Health Sciences from the Ontario College of Homeopathic Medicine.
Stead defends the newspaper against the criticism that promoting immunization was missing from Wylde’s post by saying that the Globe has published many articles on the importance of flu vaccine.
Readers don’t seem to have been placated. All six comments following Stead’s piece disagreed with her, with one commenter saying, “A homeopath’s advice does not need to be balanced — it needs to be ignored.”~TM