Fake news aplenty in medicine

Fake news muddles public opinion, distorts perceptions and generates mistrust of the institutions which are the bastions of our society.

Medical disinformation is equally dangerous (Fake news and its real consequence; Jan 11). Fraudulent cures perpetuated by snake oil peddlers sound unbelievably preposterous now, but to the uneducated then, entirely bona fide.

Better education now will not stop people believing in nebulous vitamins that will cure cancer or alkali water that will heal all.

Some websites perpetuate the disproved notion that vaccines cause autismand encourage patients to abandon conventional cancer treatments while others advocate that being healthy comes from a bottle of supplements rather than through hard-earned dieting and healthy living.

False advertising and the dissemination of medical disinformation is unethical and should be criminalised. Some patients unsuspectingly embrace Internet treatments as they think it empowers them to self-cure.

Meanwhile, purveyors of fake news can thumb their noses at mainstream media as their platform is unregulated and there is always a gullible audience willing to be fooled. It does not help that reputable Big Pharma giants have beguiled before with cures that were not, while mainstream media has unjustifiably tried to manipulate public opinion through, not false, but biased reporting. Public scepticism dies hard.

We will always believe what our hearts want us to, facts notwithstanding, and trivial fake news may do little harm.

But all astonishing claims need stringent proof and we need to be constantly vigilant.

Yik Keng Yeong (Dr )

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 13, 2018, with the headline 'Fake news aplenty in medicine'. Print Edition | Subscribe