As parents we are always bombarded by things we should and should not do with our children and family. Whether from friends, family, strangers, and more recently the internet. The internet in particular is a tricky one as anyone can start a site and make statements that may or may not be factual in nature, so whose health, safety and environmental information can you trust on the internet? One of the recent controversies has centered around Child Vaccinations, others (which won’t be discussed here) can include GM Food, Evolution, Climate Change, etc. As a coincidence this was the cover-page topic in the latest National Geographic.
Every health organisation and government recommends vaccination based on evidence based, peer reviewed studies involving over 500,000 children, but one fatally flawed study involving ONLY 12 children and no scientific basis (the data was falsified) has led the way to an anti-vaccine movement which is now causing outbreaks of deadly measles in America. It is important to note that the World Health Organisation states that if only 5% of people are NOT vaccinated then EVERYONE is at risk (called herd immunity)!! Some celebrities are anti-vaccine but some are FOR vaccinations, a good quote recently from Kristen Bell “It’s a very simple logic: I believe in trusting doctors, not know-it-alls”. Doctors get their knowledge from evidence based, peer reviewed studies. The Safety Educator will review vaccinations further in a later article.
How can we make sure the information we are receiving is based on the best available knowledge at the time? Whenever The Safety Educator review sources for articles on the internet we make sure they are reputable, evidence based and peer reviewed. The Safety Educator is currently developing a Research Policy that will clearly define this basis, but to give or readers an idea we look for one of the following:
- Government health, safety or education organizations from a developed country (e.g. CDC, NHS, NHMRC, CIHR, ACECQA, Health Canada, EPA, ECHA, DFT, DOT, Safercar, Raising Children, Smartraveller, UK HSE, NIH, etc)
- Data from a reputable non-government health, safety or education organisation ( e.g. WHO, Mayo Clinic, ILO, UN, UpUpDate, etc)
- Data from a reputable, registered health, safety or education non-profit (e.g. Médecins Sans Frontières, EWP, KidSafe, NCAP, Consumer Reports, KidPower, PRC, etc)
- Data from reputable peer reviewed journals (databases include PubMed, ScienceDirect, PLOS ONE, etc. For a list of reputable journals see EurekAlert, for a list of unreliable journals see Scholarly Open Access. Reputable Journals have a high impact factor)
- Data from reputable non-journal based that provide source material references (e.g. Scientific American, New Scientist, The Diplomat, The Economist, National Geographic, etc)
- Data from reputable news reporters that provide source material references (e.g. NYT, The Atlantic, BBC, ABC, The Australian, Slate, ScienceDaily, etc)
- Data from reputable research institutes (e.g. CSIRO, NIST, MRIC, RCH, etc), reputable top 20 universities (e.g. MIT, Cambridge, Harvard, etc) or from reputable museums (e.g. Science Museum, American Museum of Natural History, etc),
- Data from a website that is registered with a health integrity standard (e.g. NHS TIS, HON, etc).
- Data from textbooks or other books that provide scientifically proven references (e.g. SuperBaby, The Developing Person Through the Life Span, etc), or the textbooks are used by major universities (top 20 in the world) in their education of the particular industry that the textbook is based in.
- Discard ANY data that is supplied or partly paid for by advertisers or may engage in conflicts of interest. An example of a conflict of interest is a health website that recommends certain medication, which is included as paid advertising on the site. A great site for health websites you can trust is CAPHIS. Notice that most of the TOP health sites by visitors are NOT listed in CAPHIS (other than Mayo Clinic) – keep that in mind whenever you use information from the ‘top’ health sites.
The above requirements are roughly based on the Scientific Method, which can be summarized below:
- Ask a Question
- Do Background Research
- Construct a Hypothesis
- Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment
- Analyze Your Data and Draw a Conclusion
A few other key additions The Safety Educator would like to make (and confirmed by Popular Mechanics) is that:
- Results have been reproduced in multiple studies by different research teams, preferably in different countries.
- Results are peer-reviewed by multiple subject experts, preferably in different countries.
- Correlation does not equal causation.
Anytime The Safety Educator reads articles which are not directly based on the above policy we always ensure that we find the original source of the study. If this is not reputable, peer-reviewed and evidence based then we keep our skeptic glasses on and research further until we find multiple other reliable sources (with references) providing the same data. If none of this can be found then we discredit the article internally and do not use the data, no matter how ‘amazing’ or ‘incredible’ it is. The Safety Educator does this so there is always a clear basis on what we provide, and it is based on the latest available data. For formal PDF reports The Safety Educator issues, we will update the references and review any newly released data every three years.
Another recent example of what not to trust is an article released by Slate concerning the Food Babe, a blog The Safety Educator was not familiar with before this article. A few choice comments:
- “In her book and on her blog, Hari [the Feed Babe] plays this game of malicious metonymy again and again, leveraging common motifs of disgust, such as excrement and body parts, all the while deliberately confusing the source and uses of material with the molecules themselves.”
- “The Food Babe is a business [link added by The Safety Educator], just like Kraft, and one that is far less grounded in science—see her infamous microwave post and the now disappeared post about the airlines craftily adding nitrogen to the air in planes.”
We think that is a good takeaway comment (and why The Safety Educator likes non-profits) – a lot of companies on the internet are providing information solely to make money – not for the public good, and to do that they may exaggerate data or results.
In summary for all parents please keep your skeptic glasses on when searching for data or information for your family on the internet, and be careful of any reports or articles you read that do not provide references or do not follow the guidelines listed above. If something sounds too crazy, or seems too amazing and does not follow the above don’t believe it, someone is doing it for the page-views, exposure or money – not to try and help you.
What Other Companies are Saying about Online Misinformation
Below we will list other interesting articles on the internet about the threat of misinformation online:
- Medium on the Threat of Misinformation
- New Scientist on how Google Wants to Rank Sites on Facts not Links (original paper from Cornell University)
- New Scientist on Google’s Knowledge Bank
Sam has over a decade of experience in the design and operation of complex processing plants, he provides a strong technical background to the site in relation to safe equipment design and operation. Sam, a father of two children, has a B.Eng. (Chem) (Hons) and a Master of Business and Technology from Australia.