As of this evening, I will be displaying the HONcode certification badge on the left sidebar of this blog. I was able to achieve this certification on my original wordpress blog, and then at denialism blog. The HONcode serves a specific, limited purpose, and some of you might be interested in what that purpose is, and how it is evolving.
If you have virus protection on your computer, it will (hopefully) warn you when you are about to enter a questionable site or perform a dangerous download. There is no analogous way to sort out good from bad medical sites. The Health on the Net Foundation developed a way to certify medical sites that meet certain requirements. These principles do not require that the author is always right, but that the context of the given information is transparent.
As you can see from reading this, it is a process. It allows the reader to know what kind of professional is providing the information and where that information comes from. It does not verify the specific content of the site.
If, for example, a faith healer wished to have their site listed (and for some reason HON accepted them), they would have to list their lack of qualifications and lack of reliable sources of support for their ideas. This would give the reader the idea that the information on the site might be less than reliable.
I’m sure there are folks out there who don’t like my writing who will say that this is a big joke because I’m a closed-minded, arrogant Pharma shill who just doesn’t get it. Only one of those accusations would be correct. Regardless, my qualifications are clearly listed (for what it’s worth) and the sources of my information are clearly listed when possible.
Here’s where it gets tricky, though. HON is old; just about as old as the web. As they try to adjust to Web 2.0, things have been tricky. In my latest application, they were concerned about the commenting process. Since comments are part of the site, they wanted these principles to apply to commenters. I refused.
A blog is an interactive medium. If we didn’t have dissent, we’d never learn anything. HON and I went back and forth on this, and they agreed (both generously and cautiously) to give me the certification despite my resolve not to censor (most) comments. I’ve added to my standard disclaimer this paragraph:
I write all of the posts on this blog. As commenting is an essential part of the dialog encouraged by blogging I will allow commenters great leeway in posting content. I stand by the accuracy of the medical information I present in my posts, but not what is contained in the comments. The appearance of a comment should in no way be confused for an endorsement. I rarely delete or censor comments (the exception being when I feel they have outright dangerous or hateful content). Commenting is an integral part of a weblog, and I will always allow it here, but noe of the comments should be construed as offering valid medical advice.
HON is going to be watching, and if they think that the blog has the appearance of “sponsoring” the commenters and their beliefs, I may lose my certification. I’m willing to take that risk.