Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What does MHQ mean?
A. MHQ stands for misinformation, hypesterism, and quackery.

Q. Why not just focus on statements and exclude the names of sources? In other words, why not focus on science, not people?
A. The popular diet and health industries revolve around the credibility of popular names, authors, gurus, and organizations. For most of those unfamiliar with the science, the credibility of particular sources of information is the only way to gauge the credibility of the scientific message. Unfortunately, as the very point of this project suggests, such credibility in the public eye has very little relationship to the true scientific credibility as might be established in the scientific community. This project is an attempt to make the public credibility that many popular health experts enjoy more closely match their true scientific credibility and thus provide the lay public with a better understanding of the true quality of information coming from such experts.

This is somewhat different from what occurs in the scientific community. In the scientific community, while credibility is important, the role of “the facts themselves” or “the data” is substantially greater: one does not win scientific arguments by who one is but by what one shows. In the popular nutrition and health industries, on the other hand, marketing, rhetoric, business acumen, etc. play the overwhelming role in establishing credibility–to the point where many individuals who systematically make claims that are not true are highly regarded in otherwise respected popular publications. As mentioned, the goal of this project is to provide a mechanism that can neutralize some of the influence of marketing, rhetoric, business acumen, etc.

This is done in two ways. For sources/experts who consistently misinform the public, this database will in detail show exactly how they do so and give them a score based on the extent and dangerousness to which they do, thereby reducing their credibility commensurate with the low quality of information that they release. Second, this database will promote sources of information that are reliable, thereby increasing the credibility of those sources commensurate with the high quality of the information that they release.

Q. I notice that Science Communicator X is on the summary sheet and has a non-zero aggregated Quackery Score. Why is this if Science Communicator X is such a great communicator and puts out such high-quality information?
A. In order to be unbiased and impartial, all reported statements that are MHQ must be recorded on the In Progress List, if they are vetted by the editorial staff as adequate. In truth, virtually everyone will produce some MHQ eventually, including the architects and maintainers of this database. This is why the In Progress List and notifications are critical: whether someone has a non-zero aggregated Quackery Score is entirely up to those who produce MHQ and can always be achieved by correcting or clarifying MHQ.

Q. What is the Summary Sheet?
A. The Summary Sheet details both reputable sources of online health, nutrition, and fitness information, as well as sources that made statements of MHQ that have been reported and added to the Unresolved List. The summary sheet will include an aggregated Quackery Score for each source, which is a proxy for the reliability of that source.

Q. What is the aggregated Quackery Score?
A. Each statement in the Unresolved List will be weighted by dangerousness, with three dangerousness rankings: Mostly Harmless, Possibly Dangerous, and Dangerous. Statements that are Mostly Harmless will count as 1, Possibly Dangerous as 2, and Dangerous as 3. The score for each reported MHQ statement from a given source will then be aggregated into a total Aggregated Quackery Score for that source, and this score will be listed on the Summary Sheet. For example, a source with two reported MHQ statements on the Unresolved List, one of which is Dangerous (3) and the other Mostly Harmless (1), will receive a score of 4.

Q. How do we evaluate Dangerousness?
A. Mostly Harmless- statements about matters of fact that are wrong, misleading, or overhype but in such a way without any real practical intent or consequence
Possibly Dangerous- statements about matters of fact that are wrong, misleading, or overhype that mislead the audience into actions that are potentially dangerous (e.g. fad diets)
Dangerous- statements about matters of fact that are wrong, misleading, or overhype that mislead the audience into actions that are definitely dangerous according to overwhelming consensus (e.g. refusing life-saving medical care)

Q. What is the In Progress List?
A. The In Progress List will contain for 30 days all recent reports of statements of MHQ that have been vetted by the editorial staff. During the 30 days on the In Progress List, the violator will have the opportunity to issue clarifications or corrections.

Q. What is the Unresolved List?
A. The Unresolved List is where all reports of MHQ on the In Progress List go if they have not received adequate clarification or correction within 30 days of notification. All statements on the Unresolved List will have their scores aggregated, and this score will be listed by the source in the aggregated Quackery Score in the Summary Sheet.

Q. What is the Resolved List?
A. The Resolved List is where all reports of MHQ go that have received clarification or correction such that it is clear that MHQ is not being communicated or has been disavowed. Reports of MHQ from the In Progress List can be moved to the Resolved List if addressed within 30 days. Reports of MHQ from the Unresolved List can be moved to the Resolved List if addressed at any time. Statements moved to the Resolved List will not be included in the aggregated Quackery Score.