Truthometer Final Post: Does music enhance the effect of pain relieving medications?

When I began thinking about what topic I would choose for my final truthometer post, no specific news stories came to mind. To spark my inspiration, I typed ‘recent study’ into the Google News search bar. After scrolling through pages of search results, I finally reached one that captured my attention. It was an article by Medical News Today titled “Music May Enhance the Effect of Pain Relievers.” This article was intriguing to me for several reasons. First, I had never heard of Medical News Today so I was interested to do some research into whether it was a reputable source. Second, the title seemed a bit hard to believe. I was skeptical about whether this headline was conveying a conclusion made by a study or if it was just clickbait. My third reason for choosing the article was more selfish. I use pain medications occasionally and so I was genuinely interested to read more about whether adding music really does help reduce pain.

Medical News Today Logo

Before I even began reading the article, I wanted to read laterally about Medical News Today. Since it was a source that I had not heard of before, I wanted to be sure that it was a trustworthy source for medical information. To do so, I first searched for the source’s Wikipedia page. When I got there, I immediately noticed that the Wikipedia entry was extremely short at only four sentences total. However, from checking the references at the bottom of the page, I was able to go upstream and find a link about Medical News Today being acquired by Healthline. When I clicked the link, I was led to a press release titled “Healthline Media Grows Digital Reach with Acquisition of #1 Website for Medical News Information.” This press release told me two important things. First, I learned that Medical News Today was the number one online source in the medical news category according to Google and Yahoo at the time of its acquisition in 2016. Second, I learned that Healthline, the company that acquired Medical News Today, is trusted by over 25 million readers for health and wellness information. Knowing all of this information helped me feel more confident about the reputation of the source that I was about to read from. Now that I felt the source was trustworthy, I clicked back onto the original article and began to read.

The article, written by Tim Newman, begins by stating the power of music. To do so they cite several studies that link music to reducing the painful effects of several diseases. For example, in the introduction he cites this study from the American Psychological Association that states that music can be beneficial to those with epilepsy. However, mentioning these studies only served as a transition into the main topic of the article which is that music may enhance the effect of pain medicine. Newman backs up this argument by citing this research study done by the University of Utah’s Health department. I went upstream and clicked on the link which led me to a journal called Frontiers in Neurology. The title of the study is “Music-Enhanced Analgesia and Antiseizure Activities in Animal Models of Pain and Epilepsy: Toward Preclinical Studies Supporting Development of Digital Therapeutics and Their Combinations With Pharmaceutical Drugs.”

To get a better understanding of the trustworthiness of the study, I wanted to read laterally about Frontiers in Neurology. I began by going to their Wikipedia page. The specific journal did not have its own Wikipedia page, however Frontier Media which publishes all Frontier journals did have one. What immediately stuck out to me was that the introduction and history sections were quite short yet the controversy section was rather lengthy. After reading the controversy section, I found that Frontier was placed on Jeffery Beall’s “Potential, Possible, or Probable Predatory Open-Access Publishers.” In a separate article, he warned researchers not to publish their work in Frontier journals because their review process is inadequate and leaves reputable research to be overshadowed by pseudoscience that is published in the journal. The article was in response to Frontier publishing articles regarding conspiracy theories like chemtrails and the connection between autism and vaccines. Another article found on the Wikipedia page, “Editor Sacked Over Rejection Rate,” talks about a former Frontier chief editor who was fired because she rejected too many papers. The article includes the chief editor’s experience in her own words where she details getting fired for rejecting papers which she truly felt had no scientific merit. Additionally, Frontier was mentioned in a book called Pseudoscience: The Conspiracy Against Science. In this book authors Allison and James Kaufman state, “Frontiers has used an in-house journal management software that does not give reviewers the option to recommend the rejection of manuscripts they receive. The publisher’s systems are set up to make it almost impossible to reject papers, perhaps to keep potential revenue from jumping to a rival publisher (292).” This means that three separate sources have questioned the reliability of Frontier’s review process. All of these sources also question the fact that Frontier has an extremely high acceptance rate, meaning that they are not particular about the types of manuscripts that they accept.

After doing this research about Frontier journals, I am a bit worried about the validity of this study. Reputable studies surely have been posted in Frontier journals, but so have pseudoscience articles and articles that lack scientific merit. Since I am not a scientist, I can not verify the reliability of this study and I am worried that I cannot trust Frontier to verify it for me. In fact, even the author of the original Medical News Today article questions the limitations of the study in the conclusion of the article. Tim Newman points out several flaws in the study. The researchers only used a small sample of mice and they only played specific snippets of Mozart’s music. Therefore, we are unable to draw conclusions or make generalizations about the term “music.” This study did not examine humans at all so it really serves as more of a stepping stone for future studies. All in all, I would take this study with a grain of salt. I would not regard the conclusions of this article and study as definitive fact but rather as a starting point for further questioning. To be completely satisfied with this argument, I would want to see additional more thorough studies published in other academic journals. For now, I conclude that music may enhance the effects of pain medicines, but I am not completely convinced.

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