On Thursday 26 February, Martin Bland, professor of health statistics at the Department of Health Sciences, University of York, came to present work about being an advisor to a Channel 4 TV series. This was a six-part series called ‘Health Freaks’ and set out to assess the effects of some bizarre home remedies. Martin was advisor and statistical analyst for four clinical trials in this series.
Martin realised that a simple test was required for TV purposes. He proposed that if there were 10 people in each group and all the people in one group did better than the other, no formal statistical test would be needed. The four trials he was involved with were – oatmeal baths for treating psoriasis; duct tape for treating verrucas and warts; oil swilling for gingivitis; and turmeric and yoghurt face mask for treating acne. The only trial that met the criteria for success was the duct tape for verrucas. All verrucas treated with duct tape reduced in size compared to none treated with the control treatment surgical tape.
There was mixed reporting of the results of the trials by the three presenters, who were all GPs. One reason could be that, as opposed to speaking directly with the producers, Martin reported the results to the TV researchers, who then spoke to the producers and presenters. Martin was disappointed that there was little statistics shown, little time to do the trials and the misrepresentation of his analyses. However, he felt that the trials were well conducted and showed randomised control trials in a good light.
There was a good discussion about how to enhance statistical awareness and literacy through the media and television programmes. Martin was not put off by his experience and said he would do it all again.
This work has been published in Significance, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp32-35.