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Regards to all our listeners!
I'm Rob Logan, Ph.D., senior staff, U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM).
Here is what's new this week in To Your Health - a consumer health oriented podcast from NLM - that helps you use MedlinePlus to follow up on weekly topics.
Websites that publish scientific and biomedical disinformation, hoaxes, and propaganda use social media to drive web traffic and accelerate fake health news, suggests an editorial recently published simultaneously in BMJ and Health News Review.
Gary Schwitzer, the publisher of Healthnewsreview.org, explains (and we quote): 'the democratization of the internet delivers the unfortunate side effect of allowing fake health news to be spread by websites that deliberately publish hoaxes, propaganda, and disinformation as real news — often using social media to drive web traffic and amplify their effect' (end of quote).
Moreover, Schwitzer, an internationally respected health journalist, suggests the sources of fake health news (and we quote): 'are often public relations news releases emanating from ...vested interests most notoriously from questionable commercial interest such as companies selling herbal cures for cancers, but also from main government health agencies, universities, clinicians, hospitals and medical centers, drug and device manufacturers, and industry funded advocacy groups' (end of quote).
For example, Schwitzer cites a press release that touted preventing concussions among athletes by drinking a locally produced chocolate milk product, which was distributed by the University of Maryland in January 2016. Schwitzer explains the research highlighted in the press release was not peer reviewed nor published -- and the release neglected to explain the study's lead researcher received $200,000 from the Allied Milk Foundation.
While the University of Maryland quickly withdrew the release, Schwizer notes a subsequent university-generated report suggested the study's investigators were less attentive to a potential conflict of interest because they believed the overall project supported a small, local business, which was a priority of the state and its flagship public university.
Indeed, Schwitzer reports the project was underwritten by the Maryland Industrial Partnerships program that (and we quote): 'promotes the development and commercialization of products and processes through industry/university research partnerships' (end of quote). Schwitzer emphasizes many universities (as well as institutions within health care industries) have similar arrangements.
Overall, Schwitzer continues the Maryland incident suggests how basic journalistic and other professional ethics can be eclipsed in a climate where economic stimuli and publicity become institutional and public policy priorities. In other words, Schwitzer suggests the climate in which some health news is generated is not necessarily motivated by evidence or ethical procedures.
The role of health journalists, Schwitzer emphasizes, is to recognize hyperbole and provide health news that contains an evidence-based and rigorous, research procedural foundation.
Schwitzer concludes (and we quote): 'Now, more than ever, the public should have higher expectations of higher standards in journalism about healthcare. Journalism has the ability to expose and dismantle news that is fake and to refute unsubstantiated criticism of news that is not fake' (end of quote).
Meanwhile, a tutorial about evaluating the health information found on the Internet (from NLM) is accessible within the 'start here' section of MedlinePlus.gov's evaluating health information health topic page.
NLM also provides a separate guide to healthy web surfing for medical information also in the 'start here' section of MedlinePlus.gov's evaluating health information health topic page.
NIH's National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health provides a website devoted to understanding health news, which is available within the 'specifics' section of MedlinePlus.gov's evaluating health information health topic page.
MedlinePlus.gov's evaluating health information health topic page additionally provides links to the latest pertinent journal research articles, which are available in the 'journal articles' section. You can sign up to receive updates about evaluating health information as they become available on MedlinePlus.gov.
To find MedlinePlus.gov's evaluating health information health topic page, please type 'evaluating health information' in the search box on MedlinePlus.gov's home page, then, click on 'evaluating health information (National Library of Medicine).'
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It was nice to be with you! Please join us here next week and here's to your health!