Thursday, October 09, 2014

Ebola: Facts Not Fear


The New Yorker’s  The Borowitz Report headline from October 7, 2014, trumpets the alarming news: “Man Infected with Ebola Misinformation Through Casual Contact with Cable News!” Funny yes, but with a serious dig at the news media’s repeated attempts to make the disease even more alarming to the U.S. public than it naturally should be. This situation of course points to a basic truth long recognized by 21st century librarians: we are all awash in information, not all of it is reliable, and critical evaluation skills are vital in separating the wheat from the chaff.

What about those “critical evaluation skills?” In “crisis” news situations like Ebola especially, they involve staying calm and taking a minute to ask yourself some basic questions about the source of information:
  • Who/what organization is it that’s producing the information? Are they a known and generally reliable source? What expertise in the subject can they claim or reference to back up statements in their news items?
  • Is there a potential for bias in the presentation of the information? In terms of the Ebola reporting, remember that news media have a potential conflict of interest in hyping the seriousness of the outbreak in order to attract more viewers. This is not to say that all of the news outlets are overplaying the story, but just a caution that there is a possible ulterior motive for doing so.
  • How current is the information? Not only do news reports themselves have a short lifespan in this day and age, but developments in medicine can evolve rapidly. If you’re looking at a report on Ebola from even a few days ago, be aware the facts on the ground – good and bad – may have changed since then.
As partners in the Health InfoNet of Alabama health information service for residents, the state’s public and medical librarians take seriously our role in steering users to reliable sources of health information as well as educating users on how to be savvy health information consumers.

What are some of those more reliable (than cable news) resources for Ebola information? They include:
Also, it may be useful to check out some of the health news review sites such as HealthNewsReview.org and PubMed Health’s “Behind Headlines” section on http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/ for analysis of health news stories regarding Ebola or any health topic.

In summary – don’t panic, regardless of what the media or anyone tells you! Keep calm, inform yourself thoroughly and with an eye to the reliability, potential for bias and currency of the information, and carry on. And remember to ask your local librarian for help or call the Health InfoNet of Alabama toll-free number at 1-855-463-6638!


Kay Hogan Smith
Librarian and Project Director, Health InfoNet of Alabama

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Excellent job of explaining a charged topic in a very rational way!

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