News about health and medicine touch the lives of many people, therefore they often become highly circulated on the Internet. Many of these articles achieve viral status, but how many of these viral articles are actually scientifically accurate?
To find out, we conducted a study in collaboration with the Credibility Coalition to examine the scientific accuracy of health news articles. First, we compiled a list of articles with the highest number of social media engagements (comments, shares and likes) using data from Buzzsumo. The list gathers articles on health topics based on a query for various health-related keywords – including “vaccines”, “disease”, “health”, “virus”, “immune system”. We excluded articles about politics, policies and opinions from the final list of articles to be evaluated.
We then invited clinicians and scientists with the relevant expertise to assess the scientific credibility of the top 10 health articles in the list. Our review process, credibility criteria and definition of scientific credibility are detailed here. We were unable to find any reviewers for a few of the articles in the top 10, either because they became viral late in December or because no clinician/scientist wished to review them. (Note that they are still included in the list of the top 100 articles below.)
Credibility for the top 100 articles was assessed instead by Health Feedback’s science editors. As our editors do not have the domain knowledge required for all the top 100 articles, the strength of the credibility assessment is lower than that of the top 10 articles. However, they offer a good indication of whether the results of the first 10 articles also hold true for the first 100, which are arguably more representative of the broad diversity of popular health articles online.