White Coat Underground

HONcode certification

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.

In order to accomplish this, they have set out eight principles that a site must meet, and the process of getting certification can be long. I encourage you to read the principles and my specific statements compliance. Some examples included listing my qualifications, citing sources for medical information, and having a clear privacy policy.

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.


  1. #1 Martin
    April 16, 2009

    Did they not have issues with comments the last two times you got certified then?

    I have to say I’m surprised, but then I thought it was something pretty much designed for bloggers, rather than an old web innovation.

    From the practical side, it strikes me that they’re happy to allow adverts as long as they’re clearly distinct from site content – given that comments are also clearly distinct from the content I can’t see why it’s any different.

  2. #2 Whitecoat Tales
    April 16, 2009

    While I see your point Martin, I can see HON’s side of that as well.

    They classify blogging as “collaborative” writing. To me the implication is that with a blog, the post isn’t the finished product, the post + the discussion comments is the finished product.

    The point is well taken – the posts I pay the most attention to here and elsewhere are the ones where a big discussion has started up.

  3. #3 The Perky Skeptic
    April 16, 2009

    While I see HON’s point, it’s always seemed to me that just letting altmed practitioners talk is the surest way to demonstrate how unreliable their health advice is. I vote for uncensored commenting every time.

    (Er, except on my own blog, but I enabled moderation because of a spam problem, not because I’m silencing dissent.)

  4. #4 nospil 1
    April 16, 2009

    “because I’m a closed-minded, arrogant Pharma shill who just doesn’t get it. Only one of those accusations would be correct. ”
    which is correct?

  5. #5 PalMD
    April 16, 2009



  6. #6 Danimal
    April 17, 2009

    Damn, I was going to make a similar statement like that made by nospil1, but he beat me to it. On another note, were they also concerned about the commenting on denialism or your earliest blog? Or is it just here? If so what is the difference between this blog and the previous ones?

  7. #7 nospil 1
    April 17, 2009

    Danimal: Why did you call me “he”?

  8. #8 Danimal
    April 17, 2009

    @nospil1: No offense intended. I guess I should have said (s)he or he/she when I do not know someones gender.

  9. #9 PalMD
    April 17, 2009


    The HON folks are trying to adjust to the changing nature of the web. This is new, and evolving.

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