The Risks of Writing About Health and Science on Your Blog


Beauty and health often go hand in hand on blogs. And they're extremely interesting topics to readers, which seems to be leading to increased coverage on fashion blogs devoted to eating healthy, putting safe products on our skin, and the dangers that might be lurking in our food and beauty products.

It may seem harmless, but doling out less than accurate advice and warnings can cause unnecessary fear and might even harm your readers. Vani Hari, the blogger behind Food Babe, is finding that out the hard way. She's made a living from making unfounded claims and attempting to instill public fear of things like Starbuck's pumpkin spice lattes and Subway's sandwich rolls. Alas, there's no science behind many of her claims, and experts are calling her out in droves. The latest Food Babe critique came yesterday from scientist and science writer Yvette d'Entremont in an article at Gawker:

Reading Hari's site, it's rare to come across a single scientific fact. Between her egregious abuse of the word ‘toxin' anytime there's a chemical she can't pronounce and asserting that everyone who disagrees with her is a paid shill, it's hard to pinpoint her biggest sin.

She's also been chastised in The New York Times—in this article, Dr. Kevin Folta, the horticultural chair at the University of Florida had this to say:

She found that a popular social media site was more powerful than science itself, more powerful than reason, more powerful than actually knowing what you're talking about.

Hari has also been rebuked in an Op Ed by Joe Schwarcz, the director of McGill University's Office for Science & Society in Canada's The Gazette.

The list goes on.

But don't avoid health and science inaccuracies just for fear of public humiliation. Do it because you could be putting someone's health at risk. As d'Entremont writes:

Food Babe has written that, in order to deal with the flu, you should take vitamins, get sunshine, and ‘encounter the flu naturally.' In other words, her advice is to get the flu, an infection that kills an average of 31,000 people annually.

Not that you would so far as to tell people they should get the flu. But even seemingly benign claims can blow up into something you did not foresee. For example: Great if you prefer to use moisturizer made of plant-based ingredients that are sourced locally and not associated with cancer. But beware of saying a product causes cancer, unless you have some solid science to back up that claim.

Have you written about health or science on your blog? What are your tips for maintaining accuracy?

[Photo via Gawker]

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13 Responses

  1. Ally

    I haven’t written much about health or science on my blog. However, I think it’s important to cite sources if you’re making any sort of claim that might be questioned. If you’re voicing your opinion, then you need to be clear that you’re coming from that perspective and not a professional/expert one.

    • Dilek

      I completely agree with your comment. What I find strange, however, is the amount of people who take her words for granted. I am guessing she is popular. I will admit to not knowing this blogger, but if this article is accurate, then she is a bad influence.

    • Bike Pretty

      This times 1000! Links are there for a reason. It’s really easy to cite your source. I also recommend trying to get as close to the original source as you can by clicking through the “as reported by X website” links you so often find on news sites and aggregators. Very few of these sites do the actual reporting!

  2. Alex

    No no, I am no expert in any of this stuff, so I absolutely wouldn’t write about it. I have one post about healthy living, but it’s very general and I am not making any claims like “if you do this than that happens” because you just never know. Even with science to back it up 😉

    Alex – Funky Jungle

  3. Cristina

    So many props to Kristen and IFB for this article!! It’s insane that there are seemingly legitimate news sources that prop up the “Food Babe” and her ridiculous claims. Believe in science, people.

  4. Joyce - teawithmd

    My tip is to thoroughly research and know the topic, and only write about topics you’re actually credentialed to write about. I am a physician, a dermatologist in training, so I write about health and beauty and science, among other things, because I know that my posts are accurate and evidence-based. If I don’t know an answer I turn to actual scientific journals to find a way to answer my reader’s questions. It boggles my mind and angers me that so many unqualified people are blogging about health in ways that can actually harm people’s health.

    A dermatologist’s guide to health and beauty!

  5. Zeinab Al-Hussaini

    You really need to know what you’re talking about if you’re going to be scientific and mention products that are good/bad. Sources are not that hard to find and at least leave a link. Also it’s good to mention whether or not it’s your opinion.

    – Zeinab,

  6. Melody Sours

    I too agree that sources and links must be included when stating information as facts.
    I also find it refreshing when a writer states that their findings are based on opinion. Having scientific proven facts are understandably imperative but it’s also important to have a “day-to-day” view from peers who have tried a product or service. Bloggers shouldn’t be afraid to admit when sharing opinions versus facts. It’s what so many want to hear.


  7. Emily @ More Than Just Dessert

    I have a Ph.D. in Nutrition and I try very hard to be as unbiased as possible on my blog…citing sources, providing accurate facts. I get frustrated with bloggers, such as food babe, who exaggerate information and stimulate fear!

  8. Natalia | Fashioned by Love

    This is SUCH A FANTASTIC and much needed eye opener! Thank you for posting this article. I write about nutrition as a part of my fashion blog, but I work as one, too, and have qualifications and experience to share the information. And yes, since I’ve studied it for years and also worked in the field for over a decade, I do find it incredibly unprofessional and often dangerous when bloggers talk about the subject of nutrition and health, even worse, find it absolutely normal to suggest and review various supplements and potions, without having any background knowledge in it. Again, thank you! x

  9. Lizzy

    I think there is another side to this argument, which is that often products themselves are guilty of generating junk science that ends up being repeated on blogs. Everything from deodorant to breakfast cereals claim to be free of this, or better than that, or anti-cancer etc etc etc, and it is very easy to take these claims as facts. But often the scientific basis for these claims is shaky to non-existant. As consumers we should really be questioning the brands we buy from at every turn. Every time you see an unfounded claim on a product, contact the brand and ask to see the proof. I contacted Dove about a shampoo that claimed to “repair hair at a cellular level”. Hair is dead tissue, so if Dove have found a way to bring dead tissue back to life I think we should know about it! Still waiting for a response…

  10. Hannah

    I wish more people would read this article! It’s so important to watch what you say online for fear of hurting someone or feeding them inaccurate information. I actually did write post similar to this about a month ago. It was received well and it even got through to my own sister (who is someone that will believe everything she reads!).

    -Hannah | The Unhealthy Trend In Blogging