Sorting through the Noise: 6 Tips For Evaluating Vaccine Information Online
This blog post is adapted from our Parents’ Guide to Children’s Vaccines and draws information from “Tips for Evaluating Immunization Information on the Internet.”
Misinformation about vaccines is rampant online, particularly on social media, where discussions can seem volatile, contradictory, and confusing.
Do you feel overwhelmed by the amount of vaccine information online? Or unsure how to evaluate trustworthy sources from unverified information?
As you read vaccine information on the internet, keep these tips in mind:
1. The information provided should be based on sound scientific study. If it is, it will usually be endorsed by groups or institutions dedicated to science, such as professional associations or universities. The information should be accessible in reputable scientific journals, or in reports from reputable expert bodies.
2. Transparency. A good health website should make transparent who is responsible for the site and who is responsible for the information, with a way to contact the author, organization, or webmaster.
3. Look at some other articles on the website and see if they have an agenda. If you’ve come to a website that exclusively attacks conventional medicine without ever defending it, or cherry-picks information to suit their argument, there’s a good chance you’re not getting the whole story.
4. Beware of suggestions of “conspiracies.” There is a robust network of honest scientists who monitor vaccine studies without financial ties to industry. As explained in our Parent’s Guide (see “Aren’t Vaccines Just Moneymakers for Pharmaceutical Companies?”), vaccines create such little profit that maintaining a vast global conspiracy would cost way more money than what pharmaceutical companies could make from it.
5. Media attention does not necessarily mean a claim is true. You may see a celebrity advocate for or against something, or you might see a media story with a splashy or controversial headline. Lots of these stories garner clicks and eyeballs, but it’s important to read beyond the headline and see what experts in the field say.
6. When evaluating a particular claim or study, know that an honest perspective is a balanced one. Legitimate studies will not leave out relevant factors or variables. When in doubt, you can turn to your search engine and type: “Debunk _____” (insert whatever claim you’re reviewing). If a particular claim doesn’t hold up, it’s likely that experts have already done the work to prove its inaccuracy.
Ultimately, when you find a story or source online that you’re unsure of, bring it up with a trusted medical professional who can help you sort through the noise. Try to avoid jumping to conclusions, and remember that you need not “do the research” on your own.
Do you know how vaccines work? Here’s a simple analogy.