Hype and health misinformation is a metastasizing aspect of our age, in which technology both increases the public’s access to varying points of view─and, to put it kindly, the great gullibility of all too many. Which is why it’s also heartening to see skeptics also are out there to question the widespread humbug.
Look, for example, at what may be one of the most-read health information websites around, WebMD. Yes, it provides some good information. It also seems to be one of the high temples for cyber practitioners of clickbait-ing, offering headlines in recent days such as: Could you be allergic to kissing? 6 ways to fix eggs. Does getting older have to a drag? And Is it OK to drink your pee?
There’s a good reason for the site, of course, to provide provocative teases, upping its online traffic and boosting its appeal to advertisers. Like who? Try Big Pharma for millions of dollars in ads. As the website Vox reports, WebMD also has raised eyebrows by the way it places Big Pharma pitches with content that (hypochondriacal) readers see when they seek information about certain health conditions. Caveat emptor, use caution and common sense when consuming health related information, as I have written before.
That guidance also is appropriate to apply to celebrity-based health hokum, says Tim Caufield, a Canadian health policy professor (shown in the middle photo, above) who has made an online name for himself with his debunking of medical-scientific mythmaking, in particular, as propounded by the actress and marketing marvel Gwyneth Paltrow.
Frankly, there’s reason almost to roll around the floor guffawing at some of the nostrums that she advocates─and he lacerates, such as seeking bee stings, or steaming the vagina to increase fertility, or colon cleansing with juices.
That last wackiness, of course, has sprouted a cottage industry of foodstuffs said to be healthful when processed in pricey table top appliances. A West Coast correspondent says juicing and colon cleanses are so prevalent and prized as a mythic wellness practice that leading physicians in Los Angeles don’t bat an eye anymore when they bat them down with patients. On the other hand, journalism’s Gray Lady just saw fit to devote several hundred words to knocking down this persistent nuttiness. (The Times also delved into another perennial that seems to be popping up on social media–exaggerated claims about the health benefits of drinking small amounts of vinegar daily.)
If you’re seeking some better informed points of view about the gut and what’s going on there, it might be worth a gander at the pithy ripostes of Jonathan Eisen, a hype buster and microbiologist at the University of California Davis (shown in far right photo, above). Among his recent provocations was an exchange with a friend and colleague, deriding an article in a well-known science publication. The piece was a hypothetical about using swabs from a burglary scene, and whether investigator could use “microbial signatures” to capture crooks. Eisen’s take-down of the whole scenario not only amused many─it offended the respected, participating colleague. That was regrettable but necessary to ensure the public wasn’t misinformed, Eisen says.