In reaction to the endless hoax headlines of 2013, Buzzfeed’s Charlie Warzel writes, “The ‘Hoax Economy’ gives way to a new breed of fact checking.” 2014 is the year of the debunk. No, there isn’t ship of rats floating towards Britain, no giant snakes swallowing people whole, and no Brian Cransten was not cast as Lex Luther in the upcoming Superman.
False news stories for many years have been a mainstay of online infotainment, and very few of us with a Facebook feed have not been on the receiving end of a correction or two while spreading unfounded news. Social media had turned citizens into journalists but amateurs ones at best, and in attempt to even out our cynicism and our gullibility, sites lik
e Snopes and Hoax Slayer have become go to refuges of truth for the misinformed and confused. While I am thankful for their existence, I know that can’t cover all memes circulating the Twittersphere, PinBoard or Facebook feed. The smaller topics, the niche news and floating “facts” don’t always find their final say on these sites.
I spent a few years doing internet research for a University professors in the early 2000s – a time when there was even more suspicion of online articles. Back then nobody admitted to referencing a Wikipedia page. Increasingly over time the legitimacy of news found online has grown substantially as major mainstream journalist and magazines join the web. Hoaxes too have found a place to flourish. Yesterday while media outlets were apologizing for reporting on a viral video about “real” hover boards, I was stuck pointing out the lesbian confession of Ugandan president’s Yoweri Museveni’s daughter circulating on my social media feeds was in fact a false story originating from a satirical web site. The eye I’d developed for vetting credible material online was being tasked by social media posts, and this morning I was in the position of debunking a debunker.
Recently oil-pulling has been trending, no not the fracking kind but the kind you do with your teeth and vegetable oil. It is derived from an Aryuvedic approach to dental hygiene. It is a practice centuries old but is finally trending online due to natural health sites and DIY beauty pages touting its dental “detox” properties. When it comes to natural home re
medies, if the ingredients are natural and used in moderate amounts, for the most part I am willing to see for myself. Science after all takes time to catch up to many 1000 year old practices, and while the proliferation of oil-pulling articles began to show up on my feed, it was a debunking article that got me to do the research.
The article called it a scam and disputed any and all beneficial claims. The writer of the post had neither a medical nor academic background but admitted in her bio as having a bone to pick with the natural health movement. She made a very zealous attempt to portray herself as a combatant of false information and as a pro-science individual.
Now I am a skeptic at heart and the first to admit alternative health sites are not the best place to go for facts on any subject; they are often funded by products. It’s the same with a catalog from a pharmaceutical company. It’s not a source of neutral medical information. When money is on the table everyone has an agenda so it’s a reader beware world. The author in her blog post stated there were no scientific studies to support oil-pulling yet in less than a minute, using the terms she claimed she used in her own research “oil pulling dentistry,” at the US National Library of Medicine Health database, I found several articles that confirmed that oil-pulling did in fact have a positive impact on dental health. What surprised me even further is when I followed the one source she credited as her base of information, it too supported the positive effects of oil-pulling. After a 45 day trial studying the reduction of plaque and gingival val scores, oil pulling demonstrated dental benefits.
Now none of this is the final conclusion on the subject of oil-pulling but scientific research thus far is supporting its use. Is it a cure all for skin rashes and sinus problems as some have touted? Well we don’t have all the science in yet but one periodontist who answered oil-pulling questions on Jezebel’s blog said there is some physiological reasons to think so.
Currently with only handful of studies buoyed by growing anecdotal claims, things look promising for oil-pulling but yes no hard conclusions can be drawn yet. Scientific study will grow, along the way endorsing and disputing as it is apt to do. As there is little profit to be made from oil-pulling, I think funding for this kind of research will be in short supply, and between claims and denials like many natural medicines remain in a believers purgatory.
Blog posts while a mainstay of an informed web is not away to confirm any health claim. This one included. Blogs can introduce, present and challenge but ultimately are editorials by nature. They can, however, point you in the directions to look and give you the questions to ask. They can also remind you being a skeptic is good but being an open-minded skeptic is even better.
The whole experience that is becoming increasingly more common has prompted me to share a few rudimentary things I do when reading a blog post that claims, supports or challenges ideas and/or facts on any subject from the environment to medicine. By no means will this bring you to the hard truth, unless you decide to make it your profession to sleuth that out, in the short time you may have though it might bring you to a clearer more informed place.
- Who is writing the post? Are they qualified? Do they have a vested interest in the claims being made? if so, what are the other voices on the subject.
- 2. What are the sources the person used to support his or her position. If it’s just one source, that should raise a flag; however, a long list of unheard articles or studies is not the last stop. Look up one or two of those to see if A they exist and B if they truly support the claims of the author.
- 3. The first page of Google is not a window of truth; it is simply what is most popular according to an algorithm based on numerous factors, little of them having to do with truth. A peer-reviewed science journal paper is unlikely to hit the top ranks of Google. Whatever the topic go to a scientific journal or online database and do the research there. Any legitimate science based article will offer footnotes at the bottom for sources; use them. If they offer no supporting sources for their opinions then regard them as just that opinions.