My medical practice predates the internet. You youngsters have no idea how much easier learning is when you can find information on PubMed or Google Scholar with a few key words. Equally nice is the ability to have information pushed to me by Google, PubMed and various medical literature aggregators. Everyday I am awash in new information and it is glorious.

It is how I came across the Cochrane Review: Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold, which contains what may be the most dunderheaded statement in the medical literature of 2014. Here goes.

Authors' conclusions The failure of vitamin C supplementation to reduce the incidence of colds in the general population indicates that routine vitamin C supplementation is not justified, yet vitamin C may be useful for people exposed to brief periods of severe physical exercise. Regular supplementation trials have shown that vitamin C reduces the duration of colds, but this was not replicated in the few therapeutic trials that have been carried out.

Fine so far. The literature shows vitamin C is of no to minimal benefit. As the main conclusions say

Thirty one comparisons examined the effect of regular vitamin C on common cold duration (9745 episodes). In adults the duration of colds was reduced by 8% (3% to 12%) and in children by 14% (7% to 21%). In children, 1 to 2 g/day vitamin C shortened colds by 18%. The severity of colds was also reduced by regular vitamin C administration.

Seven comparisons examined the effect of therapeutic vitamin C (3249 episodes). No consistent effect of vitamin C was seen on the duration or severity of colds in the therapeutic trials.

Here it comes. Ready? It is really muttonheaded. Do not say I didn't warn you, because, as my favorite box of blinking lights likes to say, it has napalm levels of burn.

Nevertheless, given the consistent effect of vitamin C on the duration and severity of colds in the regular supplementation studies, and the low cost and safety,

here it comes

it may be worthwhile for common cold patients to test on an individual basis whether therapeutic vitamin C is beneficial for them.

A more pathetic example of what's-the-harm shrugery I cannot imagine.

As if there is any way a patient can really know if Vitamin C does anything. Cochrane, please, give me a framework I can suggest to my patients that they can apply to help determine that vitamin C is effective. I am waiting.  Godot will arrive sooner.

The biases alone render such an endeavor useless. It is why the words "In my experience " are the most useless in medicine for determining if an intervention is effective. The uselessness of personal experience is why we do clinical trials. For crying out loud, it is the raison d’être of the whole Cochrane Collaborative: relying on evidence instead of anecdotes.

I thought Cochrane jumped the shark with Acupuncture for mumps in children. Wrong. It is when a conclusion repudiates the justification for the existence of the entire organization.

We have nine more months to come up with a more numbskulled conclusion, but I will wager a beer no one will find one.