Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Here the Enemy Awaits

I just wrote a long email to someone dissecting this article about the dangers of soy. The person who wrote to me loves soy foods and is now freaked out about it because of that article, which is a shame. The problem with the article, and the website as a whole, is that the guy has good intentions with what he presents. He wants to share what he knows about good health. Then again, we all know the consequences of good intentions except this guy is carrying out his intentions in a confused way here. (I'll reprint my review of the article next time.) This sort of thing makes it difficult for anyone who is concerned about nutrition to discern the truth from lies and exaggerations. Leduc begins well and the article looks to be informative, objective and mostly balanced until you come across this sentence:

It is child abuse to feed a baby soy formula.

Wait, what? There may be ignorance or an overzealous approach to health or something else involved in feeding a child soy formula, but that decision may not be the same as child abuse. Soy-based formulas are not the ideal food for babies; that honor goes to breast milk. There are more problems with the article, but my reprinted letter will cover them next time.

The article is symptomatic of most Internet articles coming from personal websites or websites that put on airs of professionalism in that you can write whatever without accountability or strict standards. Even websites that claim to offer helpful and friendly advice (including mine) should be approached with some skepticism.


I encountered this sort of problem with my nutrition courses this semester, especially in my food science lab. The professor asked us to bring in recipes for assignments throughout the semester, so many students (myself included) would begin our searches on the Internet. Unlike other students, however, I have a modest library of general cookbooks on hand to consult as references and guidelines, and I usually use recipes from them rather than those from the Internet. As the professor mentioned on a few occasions, and as I have witnessed first-hand, many recipes online are unreliable. Even recipes from the Food Network can fail spectacularly.

The premise for one of the food science labs was that a coffee cafe owner wants to update old recipes and add new items to their menu. We are tasked with bringing in a scone, muffin, or quick bread recipe and testing it over two lab periods. Of course, most people brought in recipes they found online. One pair brought in a muffin recipe from the Food Network. This recipe had them placing dried cranberries at the bottom of each muffin cup before pouring in the batter and baking. Everyone went about making their respective recipe. We then had an informal taste test. After their muffins cooled, the partners using the Food Network recipe turned them upside down, as stated in the recipe. The dried cranberries had all burned black and were hard as rocks. What had happened was that the batter did not reach the bottom of each cup due to the layer of dried cranberries placed there (as per the recipe). So the cranberries had no buffer against the heat from the oven. Thankfully, the two mixed the cranberries into the batter for the following lab, and everyone who tasted it liked it.

So the moral from these stories is don't blindly trust everything on the Internet.

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Liz said...

I was just discussing this the other day after I came across a Facebook group protesting an artist's work. Their reference for this mass protest and petition was linked: an article on a "news" site that I had never heard of before and looked rather shoddy in content but professional in appearance. This really upset me because the article presented personal opinions and biases as fact and truth. Many people believed the claims of the "journalist" and didn't bother to look any further. After about 10 minutes of research I found the truth of the matter through some more reliable websites.

What really saddens me about the lack of accountability and standards on the Internet is that people are taken in...they fall for things so easily because the creators of these sites know how to trick a gullible public. It can be so easy to debunk them, but you need to know where to look and if you don't... Seems like in this so-called information age, misinformation flourishes.

Steven said...

Which artist's work are you talking about? Was it the one from Yale (or was it Harvard?) and the so-called suppressed abortion art?

I'm wary of all news sources. I have an email subscription to the New York Times and nearly every article I've read has had at least one correction to it. Granted, the majority of these mistakes concern details that don't necessarily change the overall article, but the frequency is what bothers me.

I've heard about a news literacy program going on in the NY university system. The creators of the program saw their students deriving more and more of their news online, but they didn't have the critical skills and questions to judge the legitimacy of their news sources.

This scares me. Given how many credible sources there are online, I would think it would be easy to discern truth from the slanted truth and straight lies. Sadly, I seem to be in the minority opinion here.

Liz said...

It was an artist from Honduras. Honestly, I can't even figure out how an exhibition in a small gallery in a small country became such a big deal. It has mostly blown over at this point.

Yes, we are unfortunately a minority and that doesn't make any sense. The truly disreputable websites seem so obvious to me...and its not because I have been through higher education. I've seen college student attempt to use inappropriate research sources. I hope other educators catch on to what they are doing in NY!