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Online Health Information: Does It Make You An Expert?

The advent of the internet, combined with social media, has made everyone experts and has increased the disdain for authority.

No where is that more apparent than the firestorm that surrounds vaccines and its detractors.

The Los Angeles Times’ James Rainey writes a column on the phenomenon, observing the backlash against a well-written, nuanced piece debunking the link between vaccines and autism.

But as we know, those who already believe there is a connection are unlikely to be swayed. And on the web, it’s easy to find data and studies that fits an already established mindset.

Mr. Rainey notes a danger to this growing phenomenon:

Citizens armed with information are sure they know better. Readers who brush up against expertise believe they have become experts. The common man rebels against the notion that anyone — not professionals, not the government and certainly not the media — speaks with special authority.

Where it stops, nobody knows. But already we see a wave of amateurs convinced they can write a pithier movie review, arrange a catchier song, even assess our planet’s shifting weather conditions, better than the professionals trained to do the job.

Of course, we are seeing this in medicine as well. 60+ percent of patients consult the internet for health information, and a small but growing minority feel they can act on what they find on the web without physician guidance.

To be sure, doctors and other health professionals don’t get everything right. But anyone can find information on the web, which can be of dubious accuracy.

Knowing what to do with that data can only come with experience and training.

*This blog post was originally published at*

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