Fit for the Future: Between fake news and (bio)medical fact

On May 9th, 2019, a filmmaker, pediatrician and historian of medicine discussed the changing relations between knowledge, authority and fake news in healthcare. This was the third Public Dialogue organised by The New Utrecht School in 2019.

Fake Medical News?

Fake news, alternative facts, ‘truthiness’: the line between true and false appears to be shifting. Some media confront us with untrustworthy news-sources, some researchers make up their own data, and some politicians seem to conjure numbers out of thin air. Fact checks soon prove them wrong, yet at times the damage is already done. Fake news is everywhere. Does that include healthcare? A lot of dis- and misinformation on illness can be found on the internet. How can we distinguish truth from media-hypes on healthy living? How can we deal with distorted information on health and disease? 

Trust and risk

Discussions about the use and uselessness of medication are probably as old as the medical discipline itself. For that matter, the contemporary discussion on vaccinations in the Western world is not new. At first glance, the cause of this debate seems to be a lack of medical knowledge among the general population. However, when we dig deeper, it turns out that trust and risk are at the heart of the matter. Why should a parent trust a random, distant medical website more than another parent who has gone through a similar situation? What risk do we dare to take, for ourselves, but also for our children? These are questions which society, and healthcare professionals in particular, have to be able to deal with.


  • Prof. Frank Huisman is a professor in History of Medicine at the University Medical Center Utrecht and Maastricht University. He performs research on the historiography of medicine, quackery and the cultural authority of medicine.
  • Dr Károly Illy is general pediatrician at the Rivierenland Hospital in Tiel. His focus areas are ADHD, diabetes care and child lung diseases. He also is head of the Dutch foundation for Pediatrics. 
  • Maartje Nevejan is a film- and documentary maker. In 2011, she made the documentary Once upon a vaccination (original title: De prik en het meisje). The documentary focused on the process her own family went through, when her daughter received an invitation for a cervical cancer vaccination. During the Public Dialogue, Maartje Nevejan was present digitally and represented by her producer.