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December 18, 2018

Protecting the Value of Medical Science in the Age of Social Media and “Fake News”

Author Affiliations
  • 1Penn Medicine Center for Health Care Innovation, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, Philadelphia
  • 2Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, Philadelphia
  • 3Center for Health Equity Research and Promotion, Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
JAMA. 2018;320(23):2415-2416. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.18416

New threats to effective scientific communication make it more difficult to separate science from science fiction. Patients can be harmed by misinformation or by misplaced trust; for example, patients with cancer using complementary medicine are more likely than patients not using it to refuse evidence-based therapies and have higher mortality.1 Researchers who produce objective science can no longer focus on simply disseminating the message. Now they must also defend that evidence from challenges to the validity and interpretation of their research and, at times, be proactive to ensure that unsubstantiated messages do not compete with the correct message. For instance, the unfounded, and yet persistent, beliefs linking autism with vaccination demonstrates both the health dangers of misinformation and the effort required to counteract that misinformation. The adversarial stance seems destined to decrease trust in the scientific enterprise, but the alternatives seem worse.

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