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The (mis)information age

Posted on January 9, 2012 at 9:35 AM

  We all get them. A well-meaning but completely uninformed relative or friend forwards an email that carries a dire warning. Whatever this email claims will happen to those who do not heed the warning will be much worse if we do not forward this email to at least everyone in our contact list. This email is vague on sources if it supplies any at all; but the message urgently screaming at us in bold, red, capital letters removes all doubt about its authenticity.

 Welcome to the misinformation age. I once received an email warning of the dangers of margarine. The email claimed that "Margarine is but ONE MOLECULE away from being PLASTIC.." The letter went on to state that if one were to leave a tub of margarine in a garage in the summertime it will not grow mold on it. I once found a tub of margarine that had made its way to the back of the refrigerator and can personally attest that it is possible to grow mold on margarine.

 snopes.com is a great resource for checking the origins of emails with questionable accuracy. My own built-in fact checker tells me that the more alarmist in message and appearance the email is(i.e. flashy visuals, ALL CAPS, "Delete this message if you don't love this country" etc.) the more likely it is to be completely baseless and false.

 Misinformation about medical research is spread much in the same way. Spam emails crowing about class action lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies are common. On a much grander scale, Hollywood has not been kind in its portrayal of the medical research industry, often portraying research clinics as secretive, government-operated entities run by sadists who use their patients as unwilling guinea pigs.

 While there have been much publicized low-points in medical research, it is worth mentioning that those have been far outweighed by the achievements made through research. Accomplishments such as organ transplants, the deciphering of the structure of DNA, polio vaccines, the discovery of insulin, the use of anesthesia in surgery, and more effective treatments for cancer and HIV/AIDS, but to name a few, were not possible without research.

   It is my hope in writing this blog that I will be able to dispell most of the myths and misperceptions about clinical trials that have been propagated through internet hoaxes and negative media portrayals. Making decisions about our health and our bodies is much easier when we are armed with facts. Now, isn't that something we can all agree is a good thing?

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