If you're casting around for medical publishing's equivalent to the classic newspaper definition of a non-story ('Small earthquake in Peru, not many hurt') a recent paper in the BMJ (13 January) might seem to fit the bill.
Birmingham pharmacologists studying the herbal remedy ginkgo biloba have concluded that for treating tinnitus It is no more effective than a placebo.
Of course, anyone biased against complementary medicine will greet the finding with a quiet cheer. See, It is what We have been saying; load of nonsense this herbal stuff.
Well, maybe so. But I think the report is worth a cheer. In the first place there are parts of Europe, including Germany, where ginkgo is not only registered as a drug, but is among the five most commonly prescribed. Not all of it, of course, is used for tinnitus. But an agent which is viewed with scepticism in one country, while having the seal of government approval in others, is worth studying.
The second reason for applauding the work is that it brings the standards of orthodox medicine to bear on an unorthodox agent. Critics of complementary medicine rightly point out how little of it has had to face the scrutiny demanded of conventional drugs. The complementary brigade pleads shortage of funds, and argues that the orthodox deny them their fair share. The orthodox reply that there are better ways of using resources. And so the argument goes on, year after year.
Anyone breaking this stalemate deserves to be noticed. . . which is why the Birmingham study should not be compared to that small earthquake in Peru.