MS in the Information Age, Part 2: Healthy Skepticism

MS in the Information Age, Part 2: Healthy Skepticism


This is second in a 2-part series. You can find Part 1 here. 

Being proactive about your MS means staying up-to-date on current theories, treatments, products, and strategies. It’s safe to say that most people will turn to the internet at least a few times to look up information. However, it can be hard to decipher between quality information and misinformation (or even disinformation) these days.

Here are some ways to practice good media literacy.

How to be a skeptical science journalism reader

You can protect yourself from following or sharing questionable information that has been reported in mainstream or general news outlets:

Look for sources

If a science writer does not include a list of sources cited or does not hyperlink sources in the article, he/she has not done proper work as a journalist. Look instead for articles written by science journalists who refer openly to published research.

Be selective about sources

There are some amazing science information outlets out there; make them your go-to resources:

Science publications: Stick with the best of them: American Scientist, Annals of Internal Medicine, Cell, Discover, Journal of the American Medical AssociationThe Lancet, Nature, Neuron, New England Journal of Medicine, New Scientist, PLoS, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Science, Science News, and Scientific American.

Research Publications: Other online sources that are typically sound include the Mayo Clinic’s Center for Multiple Sclerosis and Autoimmune Neurology, the Mellen Center for Multiple Sclerosis, The Multiple Sclerosis Center/Johns Hopkins, and Partners Multiple Sclerosis Center and Weiner Laboratory at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

News and Media Outlets: Finally, trust news and media outlets that invest in science news, such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, and the Washington Post. But be very careful to first identify what you are reading as either news reportage or opinion/commentary/editorial.

And let’s not forget our very own resource right here at Multiple Sclerosis News Today,

Even the most educated, experienced MS patient can confuse someone’s opinion with hard facts in sources posted online. It’s difficult to differentiate fact from opinion online; we don’t encounter articles there in the same way we do in print newspapers (where there’s a clearly delineated editorial/opinion section).

Opinion, however, is not a bad thing, so don’t dismiss it. If it’s coming from a well-respected researcher with decades of commitment to the field, he/she probably has something valuable to say.

How to Distinguish Factual Information from Marketing or Propaganda

Website design has come a long way, and this can mean that some sites with ulterior motives may appear to be perfectly legitimate and reliable. There are some ways to identify websites that may not have your best interests in mind, however.

Alluring headlines

We now know these to be part of “clickbait” strategy: Sensational wording in headlines that may (or may not) accurately represent the information in the article, but which are written to appeal to your basest curiosity. Most high-quality media outlets avoid these cheap tactics.

Promises of cures

There is not yet a cure for MS. Be wary of the generous use of this word in any kind of reportage (whether it’s in a headline or in article). It’s a tactic used by marketers that’s not only unprofessional, but also may be considered false advertising.

Lack of references

As pointed out above, real journalists show their work. If they make claims, but have no references to substantiate them, they aren’t professionals. Avoid them.

Freebies that aren’t

Some sites will ask you to fill out a digital form to download some really valuable information. This marketing tactic collects your “lead” information in order to sell you something later. It’s not a strategy that news or media outlets would use except for general subscription purposes.

One-sided reportage

When it’s clear a writer is taking one side of a controversial discussion (such as stem cell therapy for treating MS), and their writing is not clearly marked “opinion” or “commentary,” then it’s not reportage, but editorializing. Again, consider the source.

Questionable advertisers

When you visit websites that proffer links and images leading to sketchy content (miracle cures, large-breasted women, celebrity gossip, ugly rashes), you may want to skip these outlets. They have invested in a marketing utility that aims to increase their circulation, but many of the “media” outlets these utilities promote are not respectable news sources. A truly high-quality news outlet does not use these utilities; instead, it invests in quality, reliable content.

And that is all we are looking for in the first place, right?

Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.

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