Conflicting health information: a critical research need.

Delesha M. Carpenter
Lorie L. Geryk
Annie T. Chen
Rebekah H. Nagler
Nathan F. Dieckmann
Paul K.J. Han, Maine Medical Center


Conflicting health information is increasing in amount and visibility, as evidenced most recently by the controversy surrounding the risks and benefits of childhood vaccinations. The mechanisms through which conflicting information affects individuals are poorly understood; thus, we are unprepared to help people process conflicting information when making important health decisions. In this viewpoint article, we describe this problem, summarize insights from the existing literature on the prevalence and effects of conflicting health information, and identify important knowledge gaps. We propose a working definition of conflicting health information and describe a conceptual typology to guide future research in this area. The typology classifies conflicting information according to four fundamental dimensions: the substantive issue under conflict, the number of conflicting sources (multiplicity), the degree of evidence heterogeneity and the degree of temporal inconsistency.