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New study looks at disconnect between medical and lay expertise
Date:6/1/2011

CORVALLIS, Ore. The Internet is empowering its users more than ever, but the same technology that allows people access to limitless information has also enabled some to combat scientific or medical authority with their personal experiences.

In a recent study published in the journal Social Science & Medicine, Oregon State University sociologist Kristin Barker and graduate student Tasha Galardi looked at the reactions of breast cancer survivors in the wake of the new guidelines published in 2009 by the United States Preventative Service Task Force. Departing from established recommendations, the new guidelines recommend against routine screening mammography for women in their 40s, and suggest that women ages 50 to 74 be screened every other year instead of annually. The guidelines generated media attention and elicited intense anger from breast cancer survivors.

Sampling some of the most popular online breast cancer discussion forums, the researchers found that women used the Internet not only for solidarity and sharing their personal stories, but also to collect their own experiences as a type of evidence to contradict the task force's recommendations. The women were upset because their shared experiences with breast cancer confirmed established wisdom that mammography saves lives, especially theirs.

"We wanted to look at this disconnect between medical and lay expertise, and the outcome in terms of reaction and action from online communities," Barker said.

The researchers did not endorse or reject the task force's recommendations, but instead were more interested in how women used online forums to engage and communicate. One of the repeated messages they saw in the forums was that women used their personal stories to combat scientific findings.

For instance, the report stated that 1,904 women ages 40 to 49 must undergo routine screenings in order to find one person with breast cancer who would benefit fr
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Contact: Kristin Barker
kristin.barker@oregonstate.edu
541-737-5375
Oregon State University
Source:Eurekalert

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