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  • Pauline Hoffmann

What is the purpose?

This week I want to unpack another piece of the "how do we know it's legit" puzzle. Let's talk about purpose. What is the purpose of:

  • the article you've read (or are reading).

  • the study that was conducted.

  • the picture/video you've seen/watched (or are seeing/watching).

  • the social media post you've seen and shared (but I hope you've cared before you shared).

You may recall from my continued reiteration that UC Berkeley's Library has a wonderful resource to help you determine if something is legitimate. The following is taken directly from its site related to purpose:

Why was this source created?

  • Does it have an economic value for the author or publisher?

  • Is it an educational resource? Persuasive? What (research) questions does it attempt to answer? Does it strive to be objective?

  • Does it fill any other personal, professional, or societal needs?

Who is the intended audience?

  • Is it for scholars?

  • Is it for a general audience?

Let's look at a few examples.

It may be obvious who the intended audience is just by noting the tone or the subject matter. For example, advertising for weight loss programs like WW et al are clearly targeted to those of us who are overweight or struggle with weight, primarily women. (We can argue whether or not we should be promoting a "healthy body type" but that's a separate article.) It is quite clear from the messaging that it is using the same tactics we discussed last week regarding disinformation. Are they playing to a fear? (Your fear of being fat and alone with your cookies and your cat.) Are they helping you to find a community of like-minded others? (They certainly taunt with the "community" and how helpful it is.) I pick on WW because I have had success with its program. I also think it provides a ready example of intended audience coupled with appropriate messaging.

The messaging does have economic benefit for the WW corporation. It may also be considered educational. Certainly persuasive. It also fills a personal need. Is it objective? You decide.

Another example....

In 2016, the Canadian Medical Association Journal reported on studies "conducted" by the Dairy Research Cluster. It sounds legit, right? A group of scientists looking at the efficacy of dairy products. What's the problem?

The Diary Research Cluster consisted of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (contributing more than $13 million), "Dairy Farmers of Canada ($5.3 million), the Canadian Dairy Network ($669 000) and the Canadian Dairy Commission ($750 000)." The point? To “promote the efficiency and sustainability of Canadian dairy farms, grow markets and supply high-quality, safe and nutritious dairy products to Canadians.” (Source)

Um, what? Research funded by the people it would benefit? It happens more than I would like. Legitimate scientists were working on research funded by this Cluster but one has to wonder how unbiased it can be when it is funded by those who would most directly benefit. What happens if the scientists find that diary is harmful and should not be part of a healthy diet? Do they get put out to pasture? (Come on, you know a pun had to be here somewhere.)

Moo-ving right along (I can't help myself!) with one more example.

Much has been written about the antivaccination movement. In fact, the movement has a wonderful moniker - the Disinformation Dozen. About 12 different players are responsible for about 66% of the vaccine disinformation that is out there. If you take a look at one of the most prolific - Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.'s Children's Health Defense - you will see a very professional website. Who is this site for? One might assume it's for anyone who is against vaccines or is anti-vax curious. Digging a bit, it is clear to me that he is targeting mothers of children. In fact, the team and board of directors have not one physician. There are two attorneys and several people who are life-long advocates. Most are women and mothers.

And why do I say it targets women and mothers? It's title is Children's Health Defense. Having worked in health care I can tell you that often health care marketing is targeted to women because generally men don't manage the health care of anyone in the family including themselves (no offense to men who do but, ... stats).

Why was this "source" (the website and organization) created? The site has a .org url ending which is one I often say may have legitimate information on it (not always and others may be .gov and .edu). Was it created for some monetary gain? Perhaps, but, more importantly, it was created to be persuasive. It purports to be an educational resource. There are many articles, videos, interviews, etc. that she may reference to educate herself (again, primarily for women) about the dangers of vaccines. Do your own research! (Please refer to edition 5 of this newsletter for the reason you should be suspect of "do your own research!")

It has a name many recognize - Kennedy. Many may also associate that name with credibility. Does it strive to be objective? I will let you decide.

Those are just a couple of examples of what you should consider when deciding whether something is legitimate by looking at its purpose. I am more than happy to continue to dig to help you determine if a message is the correct one for you. Look for upcoming podcasts, editions of this newsletter, and membership/class opportunities at Data Doyenne.

In the meantime, be careful what you read. Dig to find the source and the meaning. Don't be afraid to ask questions.

For some reason, I now want ice cream.

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