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Fake News is Hazardous to Your Health: Tools & Resources

Websites and information to help consumers and clinicians evaluate sources of health information.

People are constantly being overwhelmed with information regarding diseases/conditions, medications, medical interventions, and much more.   When your life is on the line, it's important to evaluate information carefully by asking the following questions:

  • Is this a reputable source? 
  • Is there any bias? 
  • Who wrote this information?
  • When was this information last updated? 

Using high quality information is critical when making health decisions. 

 

TOOLS TO EVALUATE HEALTH NEWS

PubMed Health

PubMed Health is an information source for both consumers and clinicians. It specializes in clinical effectiveness research to answer the question "What works?" in regards to the prevention and treatment of health conditions. 

Oftentimes health news includes information using terminology regarding research studies that may be unfamiliar to readers or listeners. In the heading, Understanding Clinical Effectiveness, you'll find easier to understand guides to help you better comprehend the health news being reported.

  • What is clinical effectiveness?
  • What is a systematic review?
  • Finding systematic reviews
  • Understanding research results

In addition, PubMed Health includes tips to evaluate health news and even a free e-book on how to make smart health choices. 

Smart Health Choices Irwig, L., Irwig, J., Trevena, L, & Sweet, M.  (2008)  Smart health choices:  Making sense of health advice.  London:  Hammersmith Press.

 Full text of this book is available via PubMed Health.

 

Together with the information to understand clinical effectiveness, consumers will increase their ability to discern good health reporting.

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health

NCCIH, a center at NIH, has recently added information to help guide consumers through the news of complementary and alternative treatments. 

Know the Science includes:

The information in Know the Science isn't limited to just complementary and alternative medicine -- it pertains to all areas of health.

Medical News and Facebook

Analysis by The Independent, a newspaper based in the United Kingdom, found that more than half of the top 20 most-shared articles on Facebook containing the word 'cancer' in the headline contained information that had been discredited by doctors and health authorities.

The Independent also found that 3 of the 5 most-shared articles containing "HPV" in the title have been declared "false" by Snopes, an independent fact-checking website.  The three that Snopes had discredited were shared significantly more than the two articles that contained accurate information.

Forester, K.  (2017, January 7).  Revealed:  How dangerous health fake news conquered FacebookThe Independent.

The top five articles with 'HPV' in the headline with the most Facebook shares, likes and comments in 2016, according to web analytics tool Buzzsumo


Selvaraj, S., Borkar, D. S., & Prasad, V. (2014). Media coverage of medical journals: Do the best articles make the newsPLoS ONE9(1), e85355. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0085355

Medline Plus

MedlinePlus has a couple of health topic pages to assist with understanding health news.

  • Though not specifically about health news the health topic page, Evaluating Health Information offers a variety of links to guide health consumers through the information they find online, in print, on TV, and the radio. 
  • This tutorial on Evaluating Internet Health Information offers tips critically appraising health information found online whether a website or a news story.
  • Understand Medical Words tutorial may also be helpful when reading health news.
  • Health fraud or health scams are not necessarily the same as health news but the two can merge. The Health Fraud topic page can be helpful when reading certain health news.

Health News Review

Health News Review has a mission to better inform the public about health news that affects their health care. It advocates for better health news reporting and encourages health consumers to do their own critiquing. This website is headed by Gary Schwitzer, a long established journalist who specializes in health reporting. His team of several reporters reviews and grades news stories. They use criteria like these, asking whether the story:

  • adequately quantifies the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?
  • adequately explains/quantifies the harms of the intervention?
  • commits disease mongering (trying to convince essentially healthy people that they are sick)?
  • uses independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?
  • appears to rely solely or largely on a news release?

Health News Review actually reviews health news stories, though not all of them.  An extensive list of tips is included in their Toolkit for journalists and consumers. 

From How to Spot Fake News by the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions

CORE Librarian

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Lori Christianson
 
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