Amazon books offering up pseudoscience on vaccines
Amazon and other companies should be taking steps to ensure their algorithms don’t point the public towards junk science, but they can also make a choice about what they sell, says expert
OTTAWA — Misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines is not only being dispatched by social media — it can also be shipped to your front door with one-day delivery in hard-copy books full of conspiracy theories and pseudoscience.
When you search Amazon, the world’s largest bookseller, almost all of the top results are books arguing against the safety and efficacy of vaccines. COVID-19 vaccines in particular are targeted by many of the titles as being part of a “great reset.”
The top results include books that suggest vaccines are “Poisoning the Population, One Shot at a Time,” as one title indicates, or that vaccines are part of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s “Biometric Vaccine Totalitarian Agenda.” One title near the top of Amazon’s search results is blunt: “Anyone Who Tells You Vaccines Are Safe and Effective is Lying.”
Timothy Caulfield, a University of Alberta professor who holds the Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy, says books with pseudoscience are all too common on health issues.
“It is an overlooked source of misinformation. These algorithms that are used to select books for you are pushing misinformation,” he said.
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Caulfield said the algorithms that power web searches on sites like Amazon, as well as Google and Facebook, can create an ecosystem that points people toward bad information.
“These algorithms that are used to create the search results, they create our universe, they create our information universe.”
Canada’s vaccine program is set to move into a new stage this week with the arrival of 2.9 million vaccines for children aged five to 11. Health Canada approved the vaccines on Friday after reviewing clinical trial and manufacturing information.
Caulfield, who has written his own book on vaccines, said the desire people have for alternatives and miracle cures is strong in health care and as a result there are a lot of books with bad information.
“Because of that tolerance of pseudoscience, we have all these products out there. And obviously it’s doing tremendous harm,” he said. “The message is that tolerating pseudoscience has real consequences and we are seeing that now.”
In comparison, Amazon’s results for such other topics as climate change or the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol offer titles that would more likely stand up to a fact checker. Caulfield said people have always been more tolerant of alternative remedies in health care than they would be in any other field. “We don’t have alternative engineers building bridges for us. We don’t have life force-energy aircraft flying us between cities.”