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February 23, 2007

ATTIA Demands retraction of Gynecomastia Paper

In a press release issued on February 21 ATTIA, the Australian Tea Tree Industry Association, called for a retraction of claims that tea tree oil may have contributed to the growth of breasts in prepubesent boys in the paper Prepubertal Gynecomastia Linked to Lavender and Tea Tree Oil. (published: New England Journal of Medicine 365 (5) pp 480-485 D. V. Henley, Ph. D., Natasha Lipson, M. D., Kenneth S. Korach, Ph. D. and Clifford A. Bloch, M. D.)

In a hard-hitting critique of the paper, after consultation with numerous research scientists, Christopher Dean, chairman of their Technical and Safety Committee not only completely debunks the study, but raises the issue of media responsibility that many people have been concerned about. It appears that reporters interviewing the scientists about the paper were more interested in finding out things that would sell newpapers than in finding out factual information.

As we have previously reported in this blog, the original paper and the articles about it created a media sensation and spread rapidly throughout the world via print media and the Internet. Blogs and newspapers kept picking up the articles and reporting the information as fact, usually omitting mention of the author's ambivalence about their results. But you can bet it will be very difficult to refute the media reports, since it would take a concerted effort by many people to contact all the newspapers via letters to the editor and to leave comments on all the blogs that have carried the story (particularly since many of them don't even accept comments).

This press release and other information published by Robert Tisserand and others provide the information that is needed to refute the original media furor. But as experience with the mainstream media demonstrates, it may not be easy to get the media to pay any attention.  Even if they do issue a retraction it will be on page A18, noticed by few and ignored by the rest.

But that does not deter the folks at ATTIA, and it should not deter us. We should be writing letters to the Editor and posting comments on blogs. Point people to the links in this article while raising the question of whether the information as reported by the media was correct. Check Google News to find out where the articles are on line. Currently there are 421 hits for Lavender and Tea Tree, which seems to give the most consistent set of articles -- with only two pointing out that the articles are incorrect.

It seems unlikely that the NEJM would actually retract the article, since what the scientific process is all about is publishing information so that others can agree with it or refute it. But ATTIA believes that they should, concluding their press release:

This publication is, to say the least, unscientific. The conclusion stated in the summary is not supported by the cell culture studies. The authors show no curiosity at all about the enormous difficulties in attempting to connect the cell culture studies with the case studies scientifically. It is disappointing to see the New England Journal Of medicine publishing such work uncritically, allowing such material to damage its own reputation and to create unwarranted alarm and commercial damage around the world. A retraction is warranted.

Posted by Rob on February 23, 2007 in Aromatherapy, Lavender/Tea Tree/Gynecomastia, Research | Permalink

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