Covid-19 research: How to tell if it's fact or fiction


Take social media postings where people share their opinions, anecdotes or own interpretations of medical studies with a big pinch of salt. — TNS

There are so many studies out there regarding Covid-19 and vaccinations for people to read and react to. How do we know/decide which study is accurate and worthwhile for patients and which studies aren’t when it comes to Covid-19?

“There is more information on the internet than anyone can digest,” says Mayo Clinic infectious disease physician Dr Melanie Swift.

“It can be difficult to know what to believe.

“Depending on who is running the website or sharing their interpretation of the medical studies, it may be reliable, but it might be a misinterpretation of the data or completely falsified information.”

Here are some tips on how to sort out which is which:

  • Studies that are indexed in PubMed, are published in reputable journals, and have undergone scientific peer review are reputable.
  • Studies that are searchable in Google Scholar may have undergone peer review as well, but might be a “preprint” that has not yet undergone peer review or been accepted by a reputable scientific journal.

    Preprints are labelled as such and should be interpreted with caution.
  • Use trusted sources like government agencies such as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the US National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (these websites will end in .gov); academic medical centres like Mayo Clinic; and professional medical societies like the American Medical Association or the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

Beware of:

  • Websites that feature medical experts who are not trained in a relevant speciality or not endorsed by a reputable medical centre or legitimate medical society.

    “Infectious diseases or pulmonary and critical care medicine specialists are ideal sources for Covid-19 information.

    “If the website or organisation features just one or two doctors from unrelated specialities, be sceptical,” says Dr Swift.
  • Social media postings from individuals sharing opinions, anecdotes or their interpretation of medical studies.

    “People will commonly state they have done their own ‘research’, but this may mean they only searched for studies that support their bias.

    “These individuals may not have the expertise to judge the validity of a medical study, may be justifying their personal beliefs or promoting a political agenda,” she adds.
  • Claims for alternative or “miracle” drugs that sound unrealistic, without studies published in reputable medical journals.

    When highly effective treatments are confirmed through valid scientific studies, they are publicised by the US CDC, medical centres, medical societies and reliable media outlets.

“The (US) National Library of Medicine provides a helpful tutorial on how to evaluate a health-related website, while the (US) Surgeon-General recommends a quick health misinformation checklist,” says Dr Swift.

Some of the tips they offer include:

  • Did you check with the US CDC or local public health department to see whether there is any information about the claim being made?
  • Did you ask a credible healthcare professional such as your doctor or nurse if they have any additional information?
  • Did you type the claim into a search engine to see if it has been verified by a credible source?
  • Did you look at the “About Us” page on the website to see if you can trust the source?
  • If you’re not sure, don’t share! – By Joel Streed/Mayo Clinic News Network/Tribune News Service

Information in this post was accurate at the time of its posting. Due to the fluid nature of the Covid-19 pandemic, scientific understanding, along with guidelines and recommendations, may have changed since the original publication date.

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