How to Do Your Own Research and Verify (or Dismiss) Health Claims
Eat these superfoods, and you’ll lose weight fast. Drink this special herbal tea, and your mental health issues will vanish. Use these essential oils, and your cancer symptoms will disappear. Every day you browse the internet, you come across countless articles like this. Articles intent on making incredible health claims to part you from your hard-earned money.
The more obvious claims like curing diabetes and cancer are easy to spot as fakes. But how can you tell the difference between fact and fiction for the more mundane claims? CBD claims to help with anxiety: Is that true? Can your diet help reduce your risks for cancer and other diseases?
Here’s how to conduct your own research so that you can verify or dismiss various health claims across the internet.
Take Everything With a Grain of Salt
One major rule of thumb for fact-checking an internet source is to take everything that you read with a grain of salt. Yes, even information from generally trusted sources. If you’re willing to do that, it means you’ll double-check what you’re being told and dig deeper to find the truth.
Look Into Who’s Funding a Website
In politics and science, the axiom stays the same: Follow the money. Take, for instance, a site claiming that certain multivitamins will reduce your risk of getting cancer or diabetes. If you dig deeper into the website’s history and find that the parent company that manufactures said multivitamins pays for their hosting or other expenses, a certain fact becomes clear. You can’t trust the information the website gives, as their testimony has long since been bought off.
Look for named benefactors and parent companies on the websites themselves. That will give you an idea of who’s funding their claims.
Check for Cross-References and Scientific Studies
So, you’ve found an article that indicates that taking too much CBD could be bad for you. How can you tell if this is accurate information, the result of a brand trying to take down its competitors, or the result of fear-mongering?
One easy way is to check for cross-references and especially scientific studies. Many health websites will make outlandish claims to get traffic and clicks. Then, they’ll back their information with a fragment of a fact from an actual scientific paper. However, if you look at the article they sourced, you’ll find that in context, the fact they chose states the opposite of their original assertion.
Check to make sure the same facts are being repeated across websites, and then check their common source. A statement may be widely repeated, but that does not make it a fact.
Visit Fact-Checking Websites
In today’s era of Twitter factoids and YouTube soundbites, it’s easy for the truth to get lost in the mire of retweets and edits. Thankfully, there are a host of fact-checking websites that are able to verify or debunk a variety of claims.
For example, the fact-checking website Snopes has become a bastion of sanity in years of political and health madness. However, some accuse Snopes itself of being biased, while ignoring their internalized biases. Whether you believe a fact-checking website is accurate or biased often comes down to your own biases. This is why you must…
Beware Confirmation Bias
Confirmation bias is the principle that people seek out information that confirms what they already know while avoiding any information that defies it. Chances are if you Google search for “vaccines cause autism” when you already believe they do, you’ll walk away with an armful of mommy blog “proofs” that the connection exists. However, if you were willing to expand your mind and your search, you’d find a veritable treasure trove of scientific studies disproving that exact point.
Confirmation bias can strike even those who seek credible sources. Don’t let your internal need to be proven right hijack your information verification process.
To Quote Teachers, Wikipedia Is Not a Source
Teachers have said it for years now, and we will state it again here. Wikipedia is not a reliable source, nor is any other Wiki-style website. The reason for this is that Wikis are community-edited. Anyone with an account for the site can access or edit them, which means that misinformation can take root easily if it’s not spotted right away by administrators.
As such, you should not rely on Wikipedia to verify information given by health websites. However, you can scroll down to the bottom of the Wikipedia page, and look at the sources they cited for their article’s information. In those sources, you may be able to find the information you need to verify or dismiss the claim you’re investigating.
If Health Claims Sound Unrealistic, They Probably Are
Let’s call this principle the ‘internet information sniff test’. If you’re visiting a website for information about a new health trend, and find that the claims they make seem outlandish, trust your gut. More than likely, the ‘powerful antioxidants’ and ‘fat-burning miracle ingredients’ of the latest diet trend are fancy words for saying that they have quasi-healthy ingredients and are better for you than fast food.
Anecdotal Evidence Has Its Place as a Tool
One anecdote does not a strong evidential claim make. However, there is a time and place where anecdotal evidence can have its use. Namely, in making emotional appeals to the masses. So, if you come upon a health website that seems heavy on anecdotal evidence and light on hard, factual claims, you can be sure they want to sell you something.
How to Verify or Dismiss Health Claims: A Review
There are millions of health claims flying around on the internet nowadays. Sorting through the mire and conducting independent research is exhausting work, but it must be done if you want to prevent the spread of misinformation. Trust your gut instinct regarding new information, cross-reference everything that you read, and follow who’s funding the website, and you’ll find your answers.
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