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Fake News about Health Products

Many of the fake news stories are attributed to organizations with credible-sounding names. These organizations either don’t exist or are copycat variations intended to be confused with actual reputable news organizations such as the Associated Press wire service.

Harriet Hall, MD, also known as “The SkepDoc,” is a retired family physician, a CSI fellow, and an editor of the Science-Based Medicine blog. Her website is www.skepdoc.info.

One of my biggest pet peeves is advertisements for bogus health-related products deceptively presented as news stories. These appear regularly in many newspapers, including my own local paper the Tacoma News Tribune, and they typically fill a half page. They usually include the words advertisement or paid advertisement in small print that is easy to miss. In every other way—format, typeface, appearance, reporter byline, pictures, organizational affiliations, and so on—these fake news stories are indistinguishable from real news stories.

It got to the point that I opened the daily paper dreading to see how many of these fake news stories it contained. Occasionally I found none, but most days there were one, two, or even three of them. I started keeping a list. I got angry enough to critique a few of them in articles on the Science-Based Medicine website. They were a constant aggravation. Then one day I realized the newspaper had raised the subscription rates and my credit card was being charged $82.34 every month. I had been paying nearly $3 a day for very little real news and way too much fake news. I’d had enough! I cancelled my subscription.

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