The problem with the internet


Recently, a link was shared on Facebook claiming that drinking Dandelion tea can cure cancer. Now, up until this point, I have kept a distance from debunking claims that are found all over the internet. But, I thought it was about time.

Immediately, I looked up the author of the article and could find no direct evidence that anybody of that name was associated with medical research. Then, I looked up the scientist cited (cited without article or website links, mind you). This researcher is a credible cancer researcher, but has never made a claim, as far as I could tell, that her research shows that Dandelion Root tea can cure 98% of cancers. This simply wasn’t true.

A researcher from the same university stated that concentrated extract shows promising anti-cancer properties but needs further research, including human trials.

Just as I was about to conduct an exhaustive literature search on Dandelion Root extract, I cam across a debunking by snopes.

To summarise what they write:

  • The ‘claim’ that Dandelion tea can cure cancer is linked back to a CBC News report in 2012 stating that researchers hoped to test concentrated Dandelion Root extract as a ‘potential’ treatment for one type of cancer, but that no empirical evidence showed its effectiveness as a treatment
  • They could not find peer-reviewed literature that definitely demonstrated it could cure 98% of cancer cells within 48 hours as claimed by the article posted to Facebook

Why is everybody an expert but the scientists?

It is understandable that hope is the last bastion in the fight against cancer. But, it is undeniable that there are snake oil salespeople lurking in the shadows, targeting vulnerable people. This is the problem with the internet. It is all too easy to post wild, ‘bombastic’ (to quote snopes) cancer cure claims without considering the impact. There is a real danger that people will stop life-saving cancer therapies to drink Dandelion Tea.

As a scientist, it has become evident that the ‘knowledge at your fingertips’ phenomenon has resulted in an attitude where people no longer want to listen to experts or to people who have built a career in scientific and medical research.

As scientists, we are trained to critically evaluate others and our own research, to question how experiments are designed and conducted, and to determine if we draw the same conclusion from the data as the authors of the research. Simply typing “cancer cure” into the internet and spending a few hours reading blog posts and unverified sources does not make one an expert!

Writing that Dandelion Root cures 98% of cancers in 48 hours without having the knowledge or the ability of how to conduct the experiments required means that you should not be making these claims.

The internet and social medias are powerful tools for disseminating information, but peer-reviewed, critically evalutated research comes in second best.

Take this quick search I performed:

Screen Shot 2016-10-02 at 14.51.44.png

Where are the links to peer-reviewed research?

Final thought

I truly hope that there will be a resurgence in trust of researchers, and the acceptance that people who have studied and then spent a good part of their life devoted to research, may actually know a little bit more than other people on certain topics. Even though I have a scientific background, I will never claim to understand chemical engineering! Or, just because I know how to use Google, I would be unable to write the script needed for it to complete the tasks I ask of it!

Final, final thought

Scientists genuinely want to find a cure for cancer and other diseases. We are not preventing a cure from being found, or suppressing ‘alternative’ cures. All we want is for the correct scientific information to be cited and sourced.

Post script

I welcome comments and feedback, but defamatory, negative or aggressive comments will be moderated.





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