Fake medical news can have fatal effects

and Contact ReporterSpecial to the Gazette

"Fake News" is not confined to just revealing political shenanigans in Washington. It is also increasingly present in the media where anti-medical establishment groups promote harmful unscientific based health advice, such as not having your child vaccinated or stopping one's cholesterol reducing statin drugs. These cult-like coteries instigate the worst kind of "fake news" because it can actually do harm to the individual who follows their recommendations.

With all the information available today, it may seem surprising that some modern consumers turn away from proven medical ideas for spurious pseudo-scientific notions. But, in fact, the history of medicine is resplendent with examples going back to the Middle Ages and beyond where bogus concepts challenged the traditional theories of the day.

The difference between now and then is that modern-era health care is experimentally based, not built on artificial, unproven concepts and conjectures as in the past. So in many instances non-traditional treatments and diagnostic procedures tried long ago were frequently more effective than the conventional approach that was offered by the medical profession of the era. This is not the case in contemporary medicine.

Present-day physicians have many of the answers to their patient's afflictions. But as one doctor observed many years ago, "all that we know is still infinitely less than all that remains unknown." As a result, there are those non-scientists who will try and fill the knowledge gap by promoting alternative unproven hypotheses that may appeal to the unsophisticated and most vulnerable in our society.

This often leads to troubling medical consequences.

When this occurs, it is the job of not only the medical profession but also for all concerned citizens to challenge the contrived thoughts and label it for what it is: fake news.

Stolz is a retired physician with a longtime interest in the history of medicine. He is a regular instructor at William and Mary's Christopher Wren Association.

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