Don’t Believe Everything You Read! Telling The Real Science From The Fake
A few months ago, I came across a Facebook post stating that a major U.S. hospital (Johns Hopkins) released information on the “truth” about cancer, including how to beat it naturally. Skeptical, I did a quick Google search and confirmed that the post was a hoax. Fortunately, Johns Hopkins released a response clarifying and correcting the false claims. Fact checking has become almost a daily task for me since information spreads so easily over the internet and social media.
While misinformation is a concern, what is most worrisome is that someone could get hurt. For instance, a person might be influenced to change or stop their treatment, putting them at risk. When it comes to understanding information about lupus, it’s important to understand the difference between science and pseudo (fake) science.
Tips for Finding Reliable Sources of Information on the Internet
Ask yourself these questions as you read to judge whether you can trust the information:
- Does it sound too good, extreme, bad, or outrageous to be true? Does the author claim to know the secret truth or cure to a given problem or illness? If so, fact check to find out if it is actually true.
- Where is the information coming from? The most trusted sources are government agencies (.gov), universities (.edu), and reputable non-profits (.org). The information they share is based on evidence and sound scholarship. Reputable newspapers and magazines can be good sources of information, too. However, make sure any source is objective and not driving a particular agenda.
- Is it a joke website? All too often I see posts that seem outrageous and then I realize that it’s from a joke site. The Onion is one of the best known joke sites, but there are others with names that might be misleading. Examples are dailycurrant.com and worldnewsdailyreport.com.
- Who is the author? Google an author. Check their reputation, even if they have a medical degree or doctorate. Remember, not everyone has your best interest in mind. Are they trying to sell you something? Are they trying to sway your opinion because they are biased and have an agenda? Are they trying to gain popularity at your expense? Do they truly have significant professional experience in the field they claim expertise?
- Does the author refer to reputable studies to support their claims? Anyone can make a claim, but they should be based on the very best evidence that we have available. Determine if the author has done their homework to support their claims. A list of referenced studies should be included with the author’s material.
- How old is the information? Make sure the information is current.
- Is the story a hoax? If you are unsure, Google the title or subject with the word “hoax” and see what comes up. Also check the source to see if the original study is available.
- Is the article accurate? If there is an article summarizing a study, see if the actual study is available online. I know research articles can be overwhelming or confusing, but maybe give it a try to see if the information reported accurately reflects the study results. Here is a helpful article that helps you learn how to read scientific paper.
Hopefully these tips will help you make your own well-informed conclusions. If you have good relationships with your doctors and trust their judgment, they can be good sources of information and can be helpful for fact checking information, as well. Ideally, you and your doctor have the type of relationship that allows you to ask questions, speak your mind and advocate for yourself, especially if you need more information or clarification. As I always say, “Knowledge is power.” Hopefully you now feel clearer on how to tell the real science from the fake science.