Health journalism verification website Media Doctor seeks funds for reboot

Dr Amanda Wilson
Dr Amanda Wilson

A Newcastle-founded and globally recognised public health initiative that trains the community to critically assess the accuracy of health news stories is using crowdfunding to revive its Australian program.

University of Newcastle School of Nursing and Midwifery senior lecturer Dr Amanda Wilson co-founded Media Doctor in 2004. It won the Australian Museum Eureka Award for Critical Thinking in 2005 and spawned other versions still operating in the United States, Japan and Sweden, before its Australian arm went into hiatus in 2011. Dr Wilson said the proliferation of health information available online, coupled with fake news and bloggers with unverifiable qualifications, made it hard for readers to know what information to trust. “The dangers of this are false hope and the traditional snake oil salesman, where people are pushing interventions that will make money for them,” Dr Wilson said. “This can also be health professionals who have vested interests in making money from diagnostic tests or procedures that might not have best evidence behind them. Now everyone has a voice and I could start up a blog and claim all kinds of things. It can also be researchers…. pushing their own agenda at the expense of really vulnerable populations. The idea is to teach people to think critically about what they read.”

The public will be able nominate stories for the organisation’s team of trained volunteers to assess. Multiple volunteers will independently rate each story using a checklist, which includes verifying whether the health intervention is new and if the story includes evidence, the cost, presents both benefits and possible harm and features a second opinion. The results will be posted publicly. “You don’t need to be a scientist or doctor to assess the value of most health stories,” she said. “It’s not understanding science behind [the health intervention], it’s about understanding what information is given to you in the story.” 

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