Cervical cancer jab: Google fuelling unnecessary fears
I've posted here and here about the newspapers stoking up fear about the cervical-cancer vaccination program in the wake of one schoolgirl's death - despite there being no evidence her tragic case was anything to do with the vaccine (which saves 00s of lives a year - and it's now been announced she died of an preexisting tumour).
Anyone turning to Google to look into the issue is unlikely to be reassured. Although the results are generated algorithmically, Google's results are anti-jab. There is very little in the way of balance in the results, with a mixture of old and new scare stories, and only a couple of positive stories.
[I'm not suggesting Google should be fixing its results - the fault lies with the media for its slant on the story and the way that the negative fears are given more weight than the follow up stories which find no evidence of a link]
According to Google Insights, the most commonly searched-for term is 'Cervical cancer jab' with a 7 fold increase from the weekend to Tuesday (the latest day for which Google gives figures).
What Google's showing
Search for 'cervical cancer jab' today, Thursday, and you see:
News results at the top
- Facts behind school cervical cancer jab? The death this week of 14-year-old schoolgirl Natalie Morton just hours after receiving the cervical cancer jab sent shockwaves around the ... [The Sun]
- Cervical cancer jab is 'harming a generation' says mum [Mirror.co.uk]
- Dr Richard Halvorsen: I'm not opposed to jabs but there are serious worries [Daily Mail]
The first story is a short, cursory Q&A which doesn't help much.
The second news result is a scare story linking the vaccination to paralysis with no evidence.
The third one is a Daily Mail anti-vaccine story with little basis in fact, and which hasn't been updated in the light of evidence that the vaccination didn't cause the girl's death.
Under the news results are the web ones. Here are the top 10 (I've shown the headline, any date Google shows and the source).
- How safe is the cervical cancer jab? Five teenagers reveal their alarming stories - 5 Apr 2009 - Daily Mail
- Revealed: The serious health concerns about the cervical cancer jab - 2 Sep 2008 - Daily Mail
- Girl dies after cervical cancer jab - Yahoo! News UK
- Cancer jab alert after girl dies - 29 Sep 2009 - BBC news
- Cervical cancer jab 'in a year' - 7 Oct 2005 - BBC news
- Schoolgirl dies after being given cervical cancer jab - 29 Sep 2009 - Times
- Mystery illness paralyses girl given cervical cancer jab - 14 Dec 2008 - Times
- Two girls die after cervical cancer jab - 25 Jan 2008 - Telegraph
- Cervical cancer vaccinations postponed - 29 Sep 2009 - Guardian
- Most mums want cervical cancer jabs for their daughters - 24 Jan 2007 - Cancer Research UK
Anyone responsible for the vaccination program, or who is concerned about cancer deaths, must be in despair at this. Faced with this choice of things to read, it's no surprise that many of the comments on newspaper sites are from parents saying they are pulling their daughters out of the program.
The NHS is attempting to provide some balance with a paid-for advert at the top of the page. But the copy is too generic to encourage that many clickthroughs.
Cervical Cancer Jab
www.nhs.uk/HPV For more information on the HPV jab Visit the official NHS site here.
I suspect many people won't trust the official site, and the ad doesn't address the current scare.
If you are covering this story, try to provide a link the NHS site. Maybe with a bit of SEO we can get the NHS page in the top 10 results ...
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