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Ask the MD: Be a Savvy Science News Consumer

Ask the MD: Be a Savvy Science News Consumer

News is everywhere, all the time. It overtakes Facebook pages, overflows email inboxes and blasts from the television. We're inundated with information and, unfortunately, often misinformation as well. But separating the two doesn't have to be daunting or time consuming. Start with a small but healthy dose of skepticism: Don't believe everything you read or hear. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Then, consider these five tips:

  • Go to the original source.
    Find out where the information was published. Was it a well-respected, peer-reviewed journal, such as Nature, Science or Movement Disorders? Or was it in a newer journal that is not widely recognized by the scientific community? "Peer review" is a form of quality control, and means experts assess and approve the research. 
  • Compare news coverage.
    See if and how other sites are reporting the information. Are they communicating similarly across the board or are there competing views? 
  • Dig deeper.
    Don't take everything at face value. Figure out who is reporting and why. Is there an underlying motivation, such as profit seeking (if a product is being sold, for example), a political agenda or desire for sensationalism? 
  • Put news in context.
    Look to trusted sources, such as your physician or credible organizations, for the facts. Many sites, including The Michael J. Fox Foundation, blog about breaking news. Some, such as healthnewsreview.org, rate news reports on how comprehensively they inform the reader. 
  • Develop a checklist to evaluate news.
    Create a set of criteria or questions you can use to gauge the accuracy of news stories. Make a list of red flags, such as words like "miracle cure," that give you reason to pause. 

Stay on top of the news by reading regularly and asking questions. Follow sites you trust or sign up for email alerts. Last, but perhaps not least, think twice before you forward an email or share a Facebook post. Make sure the information you pass on is credible -- word can spread like wildfire on social media.

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