Popular science vs. Academic science: Analyzing immunization info on YouTube
December 7th, 2007

Daily Tech article found via NewzNozzle.

University of Toronto researchers bring us a seasoned study, first of its kind. Dr. Kumanan Wilson and Dr. Jennifer Keelan went through 153 YouTube videos on the topic of vaccination and immunization. Conclusions are considered to be worrisome, as childhood, HPV, flu and other vaccinations are negatively or ambiguously portrayed in more than half of the videos, and 45 per cent contained messages that contradict the 2006 Canadian Immunization Guide (similar to guidelines from the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), which provides national guidelines for immunization practices.

First author Keelan sums it: “YouTube is increasingly a resource people consult for health information, including vaccination.Our study shows that a significant amount of immunization content on YouTube contradicts the best scientific evidence at large. From a public health perspective, this is very concerning.”

Another interesting finding was that videos that were skeptical of vaccination – many of them highly provocative and powerful – counted more views and better ratings than those favorable to immunizations. A warning is addressed in the study to people who use YouTube to get informed, as it’s clear that individuals critical to immunization are using this environment to express their strong opinions and potentially mislead. The key is to accordingly filter – triangulate – the information, not just take it as it is. As emphasized by a few commentators, simple medical websites, properly advertised, as an alternative to the the usually messy and complicated government websites, and also seeing a real doctor instead of treating yourself are recommended as better solutions.

Since YouTube can largely be considered a platform for expressing all kinds of opinions on various subjects, this study makes us understand that the popular online video-sharing site can be used as an excellent research ground. Maybe other researchers will apply the methods of traffic statistics and content analysis on the videos uploaded, viewed and discussed on YouTube in order to follow other interesting threads.

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