August 01, 2005

How to spot questionable medical advice

A recent posting from the blog "Corpus Callosum", written by a psychiatrist in Ann Arbor, contains excellent advice on how to spot sketchy pharmaceutical advice on the internet. The author clearly (and correctly) states how companies and individuals can cleverly interweave true scientific facts, studies, and jargon in with more questionable and unsubstantiated claims. It can be very easy to mistake some of these claims as legitimate, especially if you don't have a lot of experience interpreting scientific abstracts, and if you are skimming a website quickly.

This is an especially important topic to be aware of, in light of the recent revelation that although Americans are mostly getting their health information from media sources on the news and internet, the media can be a poor provider of non-biased, accurate information.

I highly recommend reading the full posting. The author's bulleted summary list of how to skeptically critique pharmaceutical claims on the internet is included below:

So what did we just learn about Pharmaceutical Advice on the Internet?

* The inclusion of jargon and scientific references is no assurance of content validity
* It is important to check the author's credentials, and to remember that you can't really be sure who the author is
* Look for the interweaving of verifiable facts with unsupported claims
* Check ALL the references aand all the links
* View the page source to see where the links go; the text in the status bar may be misleading, and mouseover information can be changed.
* If you are not a scientist, be careful when trying to interpret scientific reports.
* Always find out who is making money off the deal
* If a product is claimed to have wonderful properties, but the legitimate manufacturer makes no such claims, you have to wonder why not.
* Look for recent references. If everything is over five years old, that's a bad sign

Original Source: "Corpus Callosum" Blog entry

More on being a skeptical scientific reader:

Red Flags of Junk Science: How to Evaluate Health Claims


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