One of our favorite websites to check in on is health news watchdog Health News Review (HNR).
Today’s post looks at conflicts of interest in regards to a recent New York Times article on transcendental meditation, and brings up important questions about the seemingly gray area between interest/passion and bias/conflicts of interest.
- “[A recent post on] Well (the New York Times’ health blog) [titled] “Using Meditation to Help Close the Achievement Gap” describes a program called “Quiet Time” that’s being offered in economically disadvantaged schools. It involves adding two 15-minute sessions of “quiet” into the school day. During this time, kids are encouraged to meditate–using specifically the Transcedental Meditation (TM) method.”
- It’s worth noting that while there are many types of meditation, and most of it is free, TM is trademarked and generates substantial earnings. I tallied $65 million in income from 2014 tax records of just six major TM-related non-profit organizations. Including more than a dozen smaller non-profits in the analysis would have brought the total even higher.”
- “While there’s no shortage of puff pieces about the TM movement, there’s also reporting, opinion pieces and even a documentary that take a closer look at the claims and science, including these stories from The Daily Mail, Forbes, Scientific American, MacLeans, and even the Times itself. In other words, this isn’t under-the-radar stuff anymore, and just as with any medical study where claims of benefit are being made, meditation research deserves a hearty dose of scrutiny and viewpoints from independent experts.”
- “The Johns Hopkins University Evidence-Based Practice Center examined 17,801 papers on meditation and found 41 relatively high-quality studies involving 2,993 subjects. Of these 41 studies, only 10 had a “low risk of bias,” according to the Johns Hopkins team. In other words, even the highest-quality studies were, for the most part, carried out and interpreted in a manner that favored positive outcomes.”
- “I looked up the two controlled studies specifically called out in the post, and saw this same risk for bias noted by the Johns Hopkins review. The study author on this one is on staff at the Maharishi University of Management. And the other study included researchers who are on staff at the Center for Wellness and Achievement in Education, which is funded in part by the David Lynch Foundation. Lynch, a movie and TV director, is a big proponent of TM.”
- “But that’s not where the problems end with this post. After closing on a very emphatic quote–”Why shouldn’t all our students have access to meditation?”–we finally get a byline: “Norman E. Rosenthal is a psychiatrist and the author of “Super Mind: How to Boost Performance and Live a Richer and Happier Life Through Transcendental Meditation.” So, along with potentially biased research, we’ve got a potentially biased author.”
- “If the Times wanted to pursue this topic, a better option would have been to assign it to someone without such a direct conflict of interest, and to ensure that independent expert perspective was included.”