Monday, July 9, 2012

SBM: Dr. Google and Mr. Hyde

Science Based Medicine has a great post about how the Internet has drastically changed the availability of medical information.  We know the Internet has made it much easier for people to research medical issues and it is often an invaluable tool to help people learn about symptoms, treatments, or root causes of disease just as it can be a tool to help research potential side effects or interactions from medications.

However for all the good the Internet has brought us, it has also brought the bad along for the ride.  Cranks and Quacks have been dumping their nonsense on the Internet for years, and even people with zero medical training whatsoever, no post-secondary education, and no experience in any medical facility, research center, or even so much as time as a cashier at a Walgreens have the ability to create their own websites,  pack them full of "medical" information, and then run around citing those websites as sources when they make wild claims.

We've seen this pattern from our very own Lowell Hubbs.  Not only has Mr. Hubbs created multiple blogs and websites which he has pasted information of varying degrees of credibility to, but he will also routinely cite his own websites as he attempts to provide evidence of his wild claims.

The blog post also discusses a study performed by Anna Kata which discusses vaccine misinformation on the Internet. There is a lot of great background there which I won't bother repeating here other than to say that Kata does a great job of identifying the patterns and tropes that the antivaxxers have come to rely upon.

However, what I found most interesting in the post was the discussion surrounding the term "research". As Dr. David Gorski says in the post: "[t]o become a real expert in a field requires paying dues that go beyond doing some searches on Google and finding studies that confirm your preexisting beliefs".

Real research isn't done by someone sitting in a dimly lit room performing random Google searches and gleaning information from websites which may or may not have any legitimacy behind them. All too often when I see antivaxxers start discussing vaccines, they soon refer to their "research" which is presented as a laundry list of links to various antivaxxer websites, blogs, or forums.

This is not real research.  Real research is performed in labs and universities and research centers.  Real research involves people with the requisite skills and knowledge to understand data they are reviewing.  Real research requires someone of an intellectual capacity to discern meaningless nonsense from legitimate science, and real research involves at the very least a knowledge of what separates a legitimate study from an editorial or opinion.  Real research involves performing actual work and drawing conclusions that haven't been drawn before based upon knowledge.  It is not simply a matter of repeating what someone else has already said with no context or analysis of it.  As Dr. Gorski states:
"It’s also a matter of context and quality control. Advanced training in science is not so much about learning a body of information, although that is certainly important. It is far more about learning the scientific method, learning how to do science. It involves learning to learn, how to do research, how to evaluate the quality of research, and, most importantly, how to put the results of new studies into the context of existing knowledge. There’s a reason it takes many years to learn these skills; they’re difficult and require a lot of work to acquire. There is no shortcut, either, not even the University of Google."
Perhaps this is why when I see someone brag about their education being from the "University of Google" I can't help but laugh because these people are putting their own ignorance on display and they don't even have the capacity to recognize it.  It is as if they show up to the Olympic Swimming Trials hoping to be given a chance to compete because a few weeks ago they received a swimming certificate from their local YWCA.  I don't know if I should openly mock such behavior, or whether I should feel a certain sense of empathy towards those who quite obviously don't know any better.

Either way, the post by Dr. Gorski once again serves as evidence as to how those with a science-based view of medicine will always remain several steps ahead of those who choose to ignore science and instead focus upon beliefs or opinions.  I recommend you take a few minutes to review the post in its entirely over at the SBM website:

Science-Based Medicine: Dr. Google and Mr. Hyde

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