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Year : 2019  |  Volume : 26  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 67-68  

Battling pseudoscience in the era of medical misinformation – rising role of health advocacy

Department of Anatomy, Jawaharlal Institute of Post-Graduate Medical Education and Research, Puducherry, India

Date of Web Publication4-Jan-2019

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Dinesh Kumar
Department of Anatomy, Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research, Puducherry
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/jfcm.JFCM_95_18

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How to cite this article:
Kumar D. Battling pseudoscience in the era of medical misinformation – rising role of health advocacy. J Fam Community Med 2019;26:67-8

How to cite this URL:
Kumar D. Battling pseudoscience in the era of medical misinformation – rising role of health advocacy. J Fam Community Med [serial online] 2019 [cited 2021 Dec 2];26:67-8. Available from:


No public health professional would have thought it possible that a fraudulent article published in the Lancet, linking the MMR vaccine to autism and bowel disease, would lower vaccination rates in the United Kingdom and result in the running of a number of advisory campaigns. In a study,[1] it was found that videos which were pro-anorexia were “liked” three times more than videos with authentic information from dependable sources. Today, digital (mis) information can spread like wildfire on social networking sites and the audience largely get amused by the intensity and degree of interest associated with it. Even the educated are guilty of not being sufficiently critical by assessing the facts before arriving at a conclusion. A study[2] found that disgusting emotional memes are likely to be more widely disseminated than those imbued with any truth or moral. in fact, although peer well-reviewed medical information lies untouched in repositories, gleaming tantalizing hoards of misinformation blind the individual and the entire community.

Television shows hosted by nonmedical professionals or alternative medical practitioners amount to hucksterism since they cherry-pick evidence to construct their “scientific” argument.[3] For example, an allopathic denial organization would select an isolated paper that challenges the consensus on a particular disease, but neglect to mention the broader serious research conducted in the past to posit their own theory. On recent occasions, these theories have also been directed against existing healthcare practices by nongovernmental interest groups. These mostly rely on being used as means of confirming a hypothesis rather than as a serious attempt to refute information or speculation, and the lack of openness to evaluation by other experts.[4] When such claims are made in shows or appear as articles in magazines, the audience or readers, by virtue of their epistemic curiosity, tend to overdramatize them by spreading them in social networking sites. This interferes with shared decision making in which clinicians provide medical evidence to patients and elicit their preferences before commencing the treatment. Elimination of misinformation has become a crucial means of making patients adhere to treatment since they have become sceptical of any science-based arguments.

In this regard, I would like to mention the rising standards of practice for health professionals,[5] which clearly indicate two sub-competencies of effective advocacy. One of them is the “ability to assess the political climate of the organization, community, state, and nation regarding conditions that advance or inhibit the goals of the program.” The existing undergraduate medical education has scope for community activism in which campaigns and role plays are conducted. My personal view is that to denigrate the misinformation is different; students have to hone in their skills of advocacy. This requires the ability to perceive gaps in patients' knowledge and carefully avoid any adverse outcome. Constructive suggestions toward this end might be the establishment of official standards of appreciating advocacy; conducting faculty development programs that teach skills in advocacy; and making students aware of the importance of this “non-medical expertise.”

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

   References Top

Syed-Abdul S, Fernandez-Luque L, Jian WS, Li YC, Crain S, Hsu MH, et al. Misleading health-related information promoted through video-based social media: Anorexia on YouTube. J Med Internet Res 2013;15:e30.  Back to cited text no. 1
Bell C, Sternberg E. Emotional selection in memes: The case of urban legends. J Pers Soc Psychol 2001;81:1028-41.  Back to cited text no. 2
Hansson SO. Science denial as a form of pseudoscience. Stud Hist Philos Sci 2017;63:39-47.  Back to cited text no. 3
González-Méijome JM. Science, pseudoscience, evidence-based practice and post truth. J Optom 2017;10:203-4.  Back to cited text no. 4
Capwell EM. Health education graduate standards: Expansion of the framework. Health Educ Behav 1997;24:137-50.  Back to cited text no. 5


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