I’m a bit of a science nerd. As a writer with a specialisation in science writing I have the opportunity (and vocational requirement) to research a wide range of topics relating to health and the human body. I’m absolutely not an expert in anything science related – my qualifications are in business, accounting and fitness. But as long as I know how to access credible sources, I’m able to get quality information.
One thing I have noticed particularly in parenting groups on social media is that the ease of accessing information has made us less critical of what we read, and more importantly what we share. I’ve so often seen a seemingly innocuous article or meme shared, then gone to the source to discover the source is anti science. This is a common tactic most famously exploited by David Avocado Wolfe, but used by many organisations and individuals with vested interests. They share cute, fluffy, feel good stuff to get hits on their websites and likes and shares that generate engagement and eventually to spread their dangerous message.
There are a few quick tests I use to evaluate sources of information.
- If the website has a search box, type in autism and vaccines. Recently a member of a group I am in shared a completely innocuous, quite lovely parenting post. Going onto the website and using this quick test I came across an article on the same site that linked vaccines to autism. This is not uncommon. If a site promotes any link whatsoever between autisms and vaccines, they can only be described as anti science, because the science on this is very, very clear.
- If the site is selling or promoting something, regardless of content, they have a vested interest. And obvious example is the Natural News run by pseudoscience wackaloon Mike Adams. Their advertising space is taken up entirely of remedies and potions that are proven not to work. Some of the posts may not be conspirational – they may even seem sensible. Posts about mindfulness and meditation can be incredibly valuable. But the agenda is clear, and sharing these articles is akin to promoting their products on their behalf. These products and ideas range from harmless scientifically disproven trope, (like homeopathy) to vaccination ‘alternatives’ and dangerous ‘treatments’ for autism.
Sometimes it tough to make a distinction. So, here are my top ten dodgy sources of information to avoid in the new year.
Some of the suggestions on his site may seem comforting. Chopra combines a new age message of harmony with some pretty crazy anti science ideas.
Information from a friend shared in anecdote form
As well meaning as it may be, an anecdote from a friend or relative can often be shared like wildfire and supplement the urban legends that exist, some of them quite harmful. The MTHFR gene is the perfect example. The science on this is completely unresolved and inconclusive at best. Any kind of testing should be referred by a medical doctor. These tests are expensive and often result in dangerous dietary suggestions, but they sound sciency, and can be quite compelling when medicine doesn’t have the answer for a particular issue. Just because medicine can’t solve it, doesn’t mean a pseudoscience can. In fact, we should be suspicious of anything that makes such a claim. Pyrole disorder is another similar topic which spreads through word of mouth and anecdotes but has absolutely no science behind it (and it has been completely debunked).
Word of Mouth from a chiropractor
It’s important to recognise that chiropractors have an important role to play in the health and well being of many Australians when they stick to their scope. However, there are a significant portion of chiros, (enough to potentially split the regulatory body and create the formation of a second organisation) that harbour anti vax, anti science viewpoints. What makes some chiropractors dangerous is the very fact that there is a valid place for their services – they have credibility when it comes to lower back pain. Good chiros are outspoken about staying within their scope and heavily criticise renegade peers. But its worth keeping your chiro honest, particularly if they begin suggesting other treatments or natural therapies, or give you anecdotes about patients that were cured by a new therapy. A medical professional would never ever give anecdotes. They would give you information from a relevant published, peer reviewed study from a high impact journal. Here’s a great discussion on the topic. http://theconversation.com/pointing-the-bone-at-chiropracti…
Websites with a strong fundamentalist religious message
Again, this is not about criticising religion. Most people that share a spiritual belief obviously don’t have an agenda. However, fundamental groups like conservapedia.com and ChristianAnswers.net do have an agenda. For many of them, science contradicts their belief. Australian Ken Ham is another one to watch out for. While these sites spread messages of belief and faith, they may also publish dangerous views on vaccination and medical health.
Ugh. Couched between semi-valid nuggets of dietary advice (from someone as qualified as an aero mechanic to offer dietary advice) is a whole host of conspiracy theories that belie her complete lack of understanding of anything science related.
The perfect example of someone who seemingly has plenty of credibility – I mean, he’s a cardiologist for goodness sake – but has a hidden agenda. Though Dr Oz had some excellent points to make at one point in time, he has sadly gone down the wackaloon path. This coincided with his decision to begin selling weight loss pills that are proven not to work. Funny that.
Anything with Truth in the Title
Conspiracy alert. Move along. If you back up your information with references, you don’t need to call yourself ‘Vactruth’ (for example).
Health nut News
You may think this is simply a site about keeping up with a healthy lifestyle. It’s not. Creator Erin Elizabeth is a known wackaloon, purveyor of snake oil and girlfriend of wackaloon in chief Joe Mercola. They are AIDS deniers, holocause deniers, anti vaccinationists and have been made very very rich selling their ‘cures’ and ‘ideas’ to the unsuspecting.
Age of Autism
This is not a site that promotes the health and well being of autistic individuals. It is a conspiracy site that spreads pseudoscience. Enough said.
David Avocado Wolfe
He’s well and truly earned his place on this list with fluffy kitten memes and mindfulness posts. He also believes that water has memory, that chocolate is an octave of the sun and that gravity is poisonous. Oh and that vaccines cause autism, among other ridiculous things. So good is he at drawing likes with fuzzy feelgoods, he spurned the hashtag #dontcrywolfe. Everyone else on this list is a mere copycat, dangerous as they may be.
Don’t give them your attention or your oh so valuable like/share. The great thing about social media is that WE the user have the power to decide which information becomes accessible to the greater population. Use this responsibility wisely and be critical of what you post and what your source is. (Including me.)