Journal ad claims not backed up by references, says study

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A small review of drug and device ads in otolaryngology journals found that more than half made claims not supported by the provided reference materials.

The survey of 50 claims made in 23 journal ads from four journals, published in Archives of OtolarygologyHead & Neck Surgery, was conducted by five board-certified otolarygologists. They sorted the claims made into unambiguous clinical outcomes (56%) and vague outcomes (18%). 

The researchers, who found much to disagree on, couldn't reach consensus on 16% of the claims. As for supporting claims, less than half contained some level of research based evidence (48%) while 18% were nonscientific, irrelevant or unreferenced and researchers couldn't reach consensus on 34%. 

Just 10% of claims were deemed unambiguously correct and 6% well supported. References supported associated claims in 34% of the ads while 12% of the claims “actually had references that contradicted part or all of the statement,” the study said. Consensus could not be reached for 52% of the claims reviewed.

While conceding the small scale of the study, the authors said the work “highlights some of the inadequacies in the current state of advertising” and blamed an underfunded FDA for the proliferation of weak or unsupported claims. 

“FDA resources have not increased in proportion to the demands,” they said, adding that “the agency's recent problems have called into question the effectiveness of these allocated resources.

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