The Risks of Writing About Health and Science on Your Blog
Posted on 10 April 2015
Beauty and health often go hand in hand on blogs. And they’re extremely interesting topics to readers, which seems to be leading to increased coverage on fashion blogs devoted to eating healthy, putting safe products on our skin, and the dangers that might be lurking in our food and beauty products.
It may seem harmless, but doling out less than accurate advice and warnings can cause unnecessary fear and might even harm your readers. Vani Hari, the blogger behind Food Babe, is finding that out the hard way. She’s made a living from making unfounded claims and attempting to instill public fear of things like Starbuck’s pumpkin spice lattes and Subway’s sandwich rolls. Alas, there’s no science behind many of her claims, and experts are calling her out in droves. The latest Food Babe critique came yesterday from scientist and science writer Yvette d’Entremont in an article at Gawker:
Reading Hari’s site, it’s rare to come across a single scientific fact. Between her egregious abuse of the word ‘toxin’ anytime there’s a chemical she can’t pronounce and asserting that everyone who disagrees with her is a paid shill, it’s hard to pinpoint her biggest sin.
She’s also been chastised in The New York Times—in this article, Dr. Kevin Folta, the horticultural chair at the University of Florida had this to say:
She found that a popular social media site was more powerful than science itself, more powerful than reason, more powerful than actually knowing what you’re talking about.
Hari has also been rebuked in an Op Ed by Joe Schwarcz, the director of McGill University’s Office for Science & Society in Canada’s The Gazette.
The list goes on.
But don’t avoid health and science inaccuracies just for fear of public humiliation. Do it because you could be putting someone’s health at risk. As d’Entremont writes:
Food Babe has written that, in order to deal with the flu, you should take vitamins, get sunshine, and ‘encounter the flu naturally.’ In other words, her advice is to get the flu, an infection that kills an average of 31,000 people annually.
Not that you would so far as to tell people they should get the flu. But even seemingly benign claims can blow up into something you did not foresee. For example: Great if you prefer to use moisturizer made of plant-based ingredients that are sourced locally and not associated with cancer. But beware of saying a product causes cancer, unless you have some solid science to back up that claim.
Have you written about health or science on your blog? What are your tips for maintaining accuracy?
[Photo via Gawker]