Monday, May 29, 2017

Fake Science and Aluminum Foil

When I saw a link to story with the ominous headline below, I clicked through.
DOCTORS ARE NOW WARNING: IF YOU USE ALUMINUM FOIL, STOP IT OR FACE DEADLY CONSEQUENCES
How could I resist taking a look? I don’t want to die. Like many people, I have used aluminum foil with some frequency and I have some readily available in my kitchen.
In the blog post, I saw a couple of red flags immediately. First, there’s no named author. One would think that an article about a serious health issue might be by a doctor of some kind. However, since readers have no way to know who the author is, there’s really no way to discern whether he or she is even qualified to write authoritatively on the topic of the post.

Second, there’s no about page for the website. Websites take time and effort, and they are built for specific purposes. More often than not, they are published to promote an agenda of some sort. For example, my websites are intended to expose readers to my brilliant writings in the hope that they will click through to Amazon and buy some of the books.
In the case of Poliside, there are three items on the navigation bar: Health, Lifestyle, and Love. However, there’s no explanation of Poliside’s agenda or who the website owners are. Looking at the pages, there is no advertising, per se. However, at the top of every article page, there are nine links with provocative titles and photos. The website appears to have been designed to attract readers so that they will click on the links at the top and move on to other websites. Clickbait.
The second paragraph mentions an explanation of the problem by an unnamed “medical expert.” That’s like an anonymous source in the New York Times or The Washington Post. Also the title referred to warnings from doctors. However, no M.D.s are named in the article. That leads to the question, What doctors? Why didn’t the author, whoever he or she is, name any doctors or medical experts? Dr. Essam Zubaidy, the only authoritative voice quoted in the article, is a chemical engineer.
There are several reasons why the article is so popular. First, aluminum foil is ubiquitous. Most people have used it and most have some in their homes. If it’s actually dangerous, it’s something that people would want to be aware of.
Also, the second paragraph mentions Alzheimer’s Disease, another thing many people are very concerned about. The article is also short at a little over four hundred words and it’s well-written. People can read it in a minute or two and feel like they’ve learned something of value, something worth sharing with their circle of friends.
Similar articles to the Poliside piece are easy to find. The case against aluminum foils has also been made in the Huffington Post. Meanwhile, there are many articles which say that the dangers of aluminum foil have been overblown. One that I liked was posted by Snopes.
Here’s an excerpt. 
“At the moment the field remains mixed on the role of aluminum as a possible risk factor for Alzheimer’s. Both the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada and the international Alzheimer’s Association’s official stance is that aluminum is not a risk factor for the disease. … More recent studies have come to light that may end up reinvigorating the debate, but both the connection of aluminum to Alzheimer’s and its mechanism for causing the disease are far from settled science. That being said, it’s incredibly unlikely you are exposing your brain to high concentrations of aluminum by cooking with aluminum foil in the first place.” 
Most people realize that there’s lots of fake information on the internet. Still, many let their guards down and pass along information that’s not very reliable. The Poliside article about aluminum foil doesn’t appear to be very reliable. Nevertheless, people are passing it along: 403,000 shares in about five weeks and counting.

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