Deception, in the form of scientific misinformation, is not new. In the age of internet, fake news is very common. Some examples are the circulating messages that describe cholesterol and Diabetes as myths produced by the industry, or messages that praise one or other forms of fad diets as panaceas for a variety of illnesses. Unlike other forms of fake news, when misinformation relates to health, it causes medical harm. I am no expert on why people choose to spread scientific misinformation. I will, nevertheless, try to point out to our readers about how to check the credibility of health-related news.
Firstly, it is important to see the source of the news article. Is the news published by or cited from a reputed medical journal? And how would a reader know that one is a reputed journal? Well, one simple way is to check whether the name of the journal is listed in sites like the National Institute of Health's database, also called 'PubMed'. Publications from reputed journals are generally reliable. Secondly, if the news is coming from a particular person, it is easy to check the details of the person via Internet. Is he or she a qualified specialist in the field, and do the person's designations and publications support this qualification? For instance, a general practitioner focusing on alternative therapies may not be the world's foremost expert on advanced use of modern medicines in Diabetes management!
However, one of the most important indicators of the reliability of news is this: is the source behind the news willing to engage with medical peers, or is he/she directly addressing the public only? Is the source behind the news willing to publish debate and discuss the topic with other experts in an objective and scientific way? Or does the so-called expert trivialise all scientific works and textbooks as being biased?
Many sources behind unscientific ideas may pass off modern medicines as being industry funded or biased. This of course may be true in some cases, as some scientific publications about medications are marred by the presence of industry biases. However, it is instructive to know that these promoters of unscientific therapies too may have conflict of interests and may be promoting certain foods, websites or their own organisations or even the brand value of their own name! What can the lay reader do about all this? To begin with, the readers may themselves check the veracity of the claims by checking scientific literature that is available online.
More importantly, when the reader has identified a capable and compassionate clinician doctor for matters relating to their health, they should trust the advice of their doctor or healthcare provider completely to help them make the right choices. To these tips, may we add another one? The "Eleventh Commandment", is the title of a book by bestselling author Jeffrey Archer, reportedly referring to a rule of deception called "Thou shall never get caught". We hope that our readers do not get caught in the quagmire of scientific deception and we promise to always provide you with the most authentic scientific information.
Dr Unnikrishnan AG