Fake News, Real News, and How to Identify Them in the World of MS
By now you’ve heard that we have entered a post-factual age. Social media giants Facebook and Twitter have been serving as passive bulletin boards onto which myths masquerading as truth in reporting get pinned and shared and absorbed and quoted as though they are thoroughly fact-checked news items ripped straight off the Associated Press wire service. Rumor has it that nobody checks sources anymore. Cynicism has replaced research. It seems as if most people have bought the idea that there’s a set of facts that support any political belief and therefore all facts are biased.
That is pure poppycock in two ways.
For one, there is no evidence that most people have bought into that mindset. And for another, there is indeed still a fact base we can all access at any time that remains consistent even when the sanity of the free world seems to waver. For example, The Laws of Physics do not have a conservative version and a liberal version. Gravity works equally well in both red states and blue states. And then there’s Carbon-14 dating. This is not a retiree’s version of Tinder. It uses radiocarbon testing that can accurately determine the age of organic material. Precision instruments do not suddenly yell “busted!” and spew confetti and canned maniacal laughter whenever a creationist enters the room. Much like religion, science has no sense of humor.
Fake news, real news, old news, or authentic news?
Fake news comes from a source whose mission is to perpetuate a hoax by knowingly planting propaganda based on false claims. A recent example is an online hoax that claimed Hillary Clinton and John Podesta were operating a child sex ring in the basement of a D.C. pizzeria named Comet Ping Pong. (Spoiler: it isn’t true.)
Real news can be easily traced to a reputable source and cross-referenced with other reliable sources. Trusted news sources are well-established, have a good rep, and list the sources used for the story. Trusted news sources include: Reuters, AP, NYT, WP, Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Time, The Guardian, ABC News, USA Today, Christian Science Monitor, as well as others.
Trusted sources for information about multiple sclerosis can be easily identified, too. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS), Multiple Sclerosis Foundation (MSF), and Multiple Sclerosis Association of America (MSAA), are the big three American MS organizations that publish reputable study results and resources for patient support services. Scholarly articles from reputable sources are often highlighted in their magazines. Scholarly sources include the NIH’s PubMed, a site that holds citations from numerous life science journals, MEDLINE, and biomedical books.
Old news is real news. A classic example would be a pilot study press release published years ago that’s since been debunked, then gets recycled on social media as though it is recent.
Let’s take a closer look at various news that inform us about multiple sclerosis.
Authentic news (Anecdotal, reckless, irresponsible, potentially harmful advice; source is a real person with good intentions):
Eating rare steak every day will send your MS into complete remission. Believe it or not, the source for this ridiculous claim was not fake news. It was posted on WebMD several years ago by a well-meaning young man who swore he ate rare steak for two weeks and his MS symptoms totally resolved. His discovery inspired him to create a website and spread the good news. I responded to his post diplomatically, sensing that he was not a troll making mischief, advised him against it, and suggested that he at least make the important point to heat the meat to at least 140 degrees F. He thanked me for the information.
Authentic news: (Source is anecdotal by a real person with good intentions):
Diet can alter the course of MS and improve symptoms. This falls into the category of evidence-in-progress for benefitting multiple sclerosis.
Is there evidence to support the claim that a modified Paleo diet has a predictable and direct causal relationship with an MS remission in RRMS or symptom reversal in progressive cases? While there are no large randomized double-blind trials that support this hypothesis yet, the most famous example is that of Dr. Terry Wahls, the author of MINDING YOUR MITOCHONDRIA. Her own version of a paleo diet dramatically changed the course of her progressive MS, pulling her out of a wheelchair and otherwise restoring her energy and mobility. She is very humble, an inspiration to many, and her story and diet plans bear examination. She is a medical doctor who is touting a nutrient-dense diet only, not snake oil.
Old real news going viral as recent real news:
Last spring, a story went viral touting Dr. Paolo Zamboni’s Liberation therapy as a treatment for blocked neck veins in MS patients. The story was from 2008, when Zamboni conducted a small trial with favorable results. All the MS patients experienced a reversal of their symptoms after an angioplasty was done. Large randomized trials have been performed in Canada and the US since then that did not replicate the success of the Italian pilot study.
So where is fake news in the world of MS? My own research hasn’t yielded any. If you have spotted any outrageous claims about MS that also reek of ill will, do tell us about it.
We all need to dig deeper whenever a news item captures our attention. The world of information we live in now is different from the one into which we were born.