I was looking up a medical topic and was directed by Google to the Mayo Clinic web site, http://www.MayoClinic.com.  I noticed that this web site carries ads for a variety of products. Would you trust content from any site that carries advertising? I would, but always with a measure of skepticism, which would also make me doubt the accuracy of the content. Let’s remember that there are two kinds of lies: Those you tell, and the truths you fail to tell. I doubt that the Mayo Clinic would tell outright lies, but I also know that the moment there’s advertising, it can play a role in how much of the whole truth you get to hear, especially when it conflicts with advertisers’ interests. Here’s the Mayo Clinic’s guidleine for advertising:

“To further our mission of making reliable health information available to the public, we accept advertising and sponsorship under strict guidelines. We will refuse any advertisement that we believe is incompatible with our mission. The presence of an ad on our site or in Housecall, our weekly newsletter, does not imply endorsement of the advertised company or product. Advertisers and sponsors must not make unsubstantiated health claims or suggest that Mayo Clinic has endorsed a product. Advertising is not targeted to individual users but may be placed on the site adjacent to content related to advertiser or sponsor interest. Advertising also appears in our weekly newsletter, Housecall.

MayoClinic.com maintains a distinct separation between advertising content and editorial content. All advertising content on MayoClinic.com or in Housecall, our weekly newsletter, is clearly labeled as an advertisement. Sponsored areas of the site are labeled as such, and the sponsoring organizations are identified”.

Sounds very upright and comforting. But why open this door to potential loss of credibility? Surely the advertising from these few companies can’t go that far in funding the site. Are we to believe that a massive for-profit institution like the Mayo Clinic can’t afford to fully fund the web site on its own…especially when the web site itself is a form of advertising for the clinic itself. Almighty dollar how you make me holler!

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