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Medical misinformation online

The internet is an amalgamation of  fact and falsehood, a swirling blend of accuracy and error, where truth is often diluted and conflated with rumor, innuendo, and lies. This is clear to many of us, especially when we’re browsing news or political sites. However, things can get seriously murky when we explore scientific and medical sites.

Dr. Tom Chamberlain, M.D., is concerned about what is, in his opinion, the high quantity of low-quality medical information available online. The retired internal medicine physician recently delivered a talk about the problem, as he sees it, at The Forum in Montrose. “A lot of stuff on the internet has bothered me lately,” he began. “There is near-hysteria about all kinds of things that are just so much pseudo-science and misinformation.”

With that in mind, the doctor presented what he said is the scientific consensus about certain controversial subjects. Take GMO’s (Genetically Modified Organisms), for example. A number of GMO crops are on the market, despite the concerns of some scientists and lay people.  “The fiction is that they’re extremely dangerous, and might cause cancer, autism, allergies, obesity, and all kinds of things, when in fact these crops are as safe as their non-GMO counterparts,” Chamberlain stated. “They’ve had no adverse environmental impacts, and have markedly reduced the use of pesticides. They’ve been doing this for 40 years, and not a single case of a problem has occurred,” he said.

However, the Non-GMO Project (https://www.nongmoproject.org), asserts that “In the absence of credible independent long-term feeding studies, the safety of GMOs is unknown. Increasingly, citizens are taking matters into their own hands and choosing to opt out of the GMO experiment.”

Currently, 10 genetically modified crops are sold in the U.S. today:  alfalfa, apples, canola, corn (field and sweet), cotton, papaya, potatoes, soybeans, squash and sugar beets.

GMO’s are organisms that have been genetically engineered in laboratories, resulting in plants, animals, or microbes that don’t exist in nature or through traditional cross-breeding techniques.

GMO crops are created for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Insect resistance
  • Drought tolerance
  • Herbicide tolerance
  • Disease resistance
  • Enhanced nutritional content
  • Reduced food waste
  • Improved manufacturing processes

Chamberlain provided a flyer to the Forum audience that lists several websites he trusts: 

Science-Based Medicine is a website with articles covering issues in science and medicine, especially dangerous medical scams and practices. Edited by Steven Novella, MD

Neurologica Blog. A daily blog of news and science issues that require critical thinking, by Steven Nove1la, MD.

Skeptoid. A weekly blog revealing the true science about popular myths, by Brian Dunning.

Quackwatch.com. A website that is an international network of scientists who are concerned about health-related frauds and myths, by Stephen Bamett, MD.

Wikipedia. Free online encyclopedia.

WebMD. A daily newspaper for health tips and reference material, by a panel of physicians.

The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe is a weekly podcast by different scientists organized by Stephen Novella, MD. Frequently picked as best podcast.

Dr. Thomas J. Chamberlain, M.D. had a successful practice in Montrose for 28 years.

About the author

Dave Segal

Dave Segal

Dave Segal, a Detroit native, has been a journalist since 1977. He has worked as a reporter, commentator, and news director at radio stations in Detroit, Denver, and Montrose.

Dave has been writing and editing for the Monitor since its first print issue in 2003. He is editor and senior writer for the digital magazine. On the side, Dave has also done freelance writing, media relations, and a variety of volunteer work.