Never before have so many people had so much information at their disposal, and yet so many of us seemingly lack the ability to understand this information and use it in a rational and considered fashion.
Health concerns, and particularly concerns about children's health, is a particular example of this phenomenon.
Lies, half-truths, distortions and misunderstandings are packaged up along with publicity seeking professionals and even scientific journals and leavened with doses of inane and stupid conspiracy theories. The completely unfounded and ridiculous fears about vaccinating children, especially with the MMR vaccine, is a perfect illustration of this toxic cocktail of fear and misinformation.
That a once reputable scientific journal, that is The Lancet, actually helped to spread disinformation about the MMR vaccine by publishing poorly conducted research findings that somehow made their way through peer review, shows that we can no longer just dismiss this kind of thing as the crazy beliefs of a few nutcases on the fringe.
Even scientific journals now feel they have to compete for attention in a crowded market place and the temptation to go for the headline grabbing over the substantial is more and more in evidence.
(The Lancet is of course the journal that published idiotic claims about so-called surplus deaths in Iraq, pulling first a figure of 100,000 out of thin air and then desperately gazumping that with a claim of over 650,000. It is worthwhile remembering two things here. Firstly, the editor of the magazine is noted for his far-Left politics and penchant for activism and actively took part in events organised by the Trotskyist front group - the Stop the War Coalition. Secondly, and most importantly, the figure of 650,000 or more was an extrapolation based upon just 547 actual deaths.)
Despite being proved by one double-blind trial after another to be useless and ineffective, so called "complimentary medicine" is actually being taught in increasing numbers of supposedly top rank universities.
But when a failed American politician can win a Nobel Peace Prize, not for actually stopping a war or bringing peace to anywhere, but for making a pseudo-documentary horror film later found by a court to be so riddled with basic scientific errors as to be only suitable for showing in British schools if there was an appropriate warning attached to it, anything is possible it seems and nothing is too absurd to be taken seriously.
But anyway. Peanuts and children's health and the often irrational fears of parents and the lessons they can teach us about being careful in responding to often exaggerated or just misleading claims about health or diet etc.
Sandy from Junkfood Science takes the time to examine the actual evidence versus the all too common hyped-up claims that food allergies are increasing amongst children.
As she observes, it is not actual rates of allergies that are increasing, but rather numbers of parents who think their children are suffering from them.
These reports might seem to be saying that more children today have diagnosed food allergies, but that is not what they are actually reporting. The studies behind these claims were surveys, all of which found that the percentage of parents who report they believe their children have food allergies has increased over the past decade.
But these reports have also neglected to reveal that repeated studies have found that 5 times more parents report their children have food allergies than actually do when tested in double-blind, placebo-controlled food challenges; and as many as 12 times more report food allergies in their infants and children than actually have food allergies when given skin prick testing. The discrepancy between perceived and actual food allergies is growing.
With that introduction, let’s all take a deep breath and see what the research can tell us.