Question 6: Is it balanced and unbiased?
What the question is about and why it is important
A good quality publication will provide fair and impartial information. It is important that information about a treatment choice or choices is presented in a way that enables you to choose what is in your best interests. A publication should be honest and informative. It should not influence you by ‘promoting’ particular treatment choices or by using ‘shock tactics’.
Rating the question
Your rating should be based on your impression of the information about treatment choices as a whole. The hints will help you develop a ‘feel’ for the balance and bias of the information, but your own judgement will also be important. Here are some additional points to help you.
You should judge the information on its own merits and you should not be influenced by what you know about the author or producer. Well-respected individuals (including doctors and charities) can produce poor quality information, and an unknown author or producer can produce information that meets high standards.
Publications describing one particular treatment choice can be acceptable if the author has made this clear (Question 1) and has acknowledged that other treatment choices may be available (Question 14). In all cases, the information about the treatment choice or choices should be drawn from a range of research and experience. You should not give a high rating to a publication that relies solely on a single source of evidence or has not revealed any sources (Question 4).
Ideally, a publication should be independently reviewed and approved by an expert, professional organisation or consumer group. Evidence of an external assessment provides readers with some assurance that the information is unprejudiced. However, this is not yet common practice and a publication that omits this information can still achieve a good rating on this question.
Guidelines for rating the question:
5: Yes - the information is completely balanced and unbiased.
2 - 4: Partially - some aspects of the information are unbalanced or biased.
1: No - the information is completely unbalanced or biased.
A webpage describes a single treatment for a skin condition. The page is written by a doctor and is found in the section on treatments on a national self-help organisation's website. The sources of evidence quoted are the scientist who developed and sells the treatment and the case of one of the doctor’s patients who has experienced a ‘miraculous’ cure. The only reference to other treatment choices is the statement that ‘all other treatments for the condition are associated with unacceptable side-effects’ and the possibility of ‘permanent disfigurement’ if no treatment is used. The patient’s search for a cure is described as ‘torture’ that led him to try other treatments that left him ‘scarred’ and ‘suicidal’. The treatment is said to produce ‘stunning and permanent results after a few applications with no risks or side-effects’. The author recommends the treatment as ‘suitable for anyone’ and ‘bringing hope to all those who have despaired of finding relief from this devastating and unsightly condition’.