This is a good example of a point made frequently on this blog how presuppositions drive study analyses and conclusions. The authors of this study (click here) have made very critical assumptions up front (perhaps without even realizing it). For example, it is assumed that fluoride addition to drinking water is always beneficial and it is to be the default position unless proven harmful. As a result the fictitious “antifluoridation” network (sometimes called anti’s) is a conspiracy to be resisted, is putting out “misinformation” , must be monitored for “accuracy”, and that public health agencies have to communicate better to get the profluoride message out.
What has been assumed from the beginning is the very issue in question. There is little if any basis for the presumption that fluoride addition to drinking water is never harmful and everyone should have it in their drinking water. Public health workers in many cases are profluoride because they have been told that it is good and told that those opposing it are misinformed, without ever having considered the underlying issues.
One could have just as easily looked on the internet to discover the connectedness of the “profluoride” network. Neither of these approaches help to answer the most important questions (e.g. whether fluoride should be added to drinking water at all. ) Assuming away the real issues at hand is to be blinded by assumptions.
Lastly, I’d say publication of such a “study”, which is essentially an internet search, as a “peer-reviewed” journal article reflects the advocacy of the AJPH than anything else.
Seymour B, Getman R, Saraf A, Zhang LH, Kalenderian E. When Advocacy Obscures Accuracy Online: Digital Pandemics of Public Health Misinformation Through an Antifluoride Case Study. Am J Public Health. 2015 Jan 20:e1-e7.
Objectives. In an antifluoridation case study, we explored digital pandemics and the social spread of scientifically inaccurate health information across the Web, and we considered the potential health effects.
Methods. Using the social networking site Facebook and the open source applications Netvizz and Gephi, we analyzed the connectedness of antifluoride networks as a measure of social influence, the social diffusion of information based on conversations about a sample scientific publication as a measure of spread, and the engagement and sentiment about the publication as a measure of attitudes and behaviors.
Results. Our study sample was significantly more connected than was the social networking site overall (P < .001). Social diffusion was evident; users were forced to navigate multiple pages or never reached the sample publication being discussed 60% and 12% of the time, respectively. Users had a 1 in 2 chance of encountering negative and nonempirical content about fluoride unrelated to the sample publication.
Conclusions. Network sociology may be as influential as the information content and scientific validity of a particular health topic discussed using social media. Public health must employ social strategies for improved communication management.