Sharing an article with others is huge. It’s how information becomes rapidly transmitted. One way to do that is with the “social sharing” links that accompany each article (Twitter or Facebook, for example.) Another way is to publish something to your own website. If you do, it’s very important to summarize the main points of the article and post a link to it, rather than copying an article in its entirety. This story explains why.
At one point in 1999, one of my readers informed me that my article on partially hydrogenated oils was no less than #1 in Google’s search ranking. That was pretty cool. But beyond being a nice feather in my cap, it meant that anyone who searched on that term found my article first, before anything else.
On a few occasions, my paper on partially hydrogenated oils slipped down in the Google rankings. It would be down as far as page 5 or 6, where no one was likely to find it. Each time, it turned out that one or more people had republished the article in it’s entirety, because they liked it so much. They did so with the best of intentions, thinking that they were doing a favor by making the article “more available”. They did so without realizing that they were doing a disservice to many thousands of people who searched on that term, and were finding corporate pablum instead of useful information, because of the lowered ranking.
So I’d send them a note, they’d take down the pirated copy, and the page would pop back up to the top of the rankings.
In that paper, I coined the term “metabolic poisons” to describe the trans fats that partially hydrogenated oils contain. About a decade later, I heard no less than the head of the Harvard Health Division, Walter Willett, using that term on CNN. That was also cool, because it meant that the paper had (most probably) been influential with respect to at least one very important person.
More importantly, in 2003, the FDA started the process to require labeling of trans fats. I don’t think it was a coincidence. I believe my article played a role in raising public awareness, and adding to the drumbeat of the call for change. But the sad thing is that the information was known in the 50’s. So it took 50 years for it to reach critical mass. That’s a lot of human suffering over the dam.
And as I had feared, corporations immediately started lobbying to change the name of the ingredient! Fortunately, the FDA held that line. They not only refused the name change, but they required trans fat content to be labeled as “trans fats”, regardless of the ingredient it came from. That was one
That episode continues to be one of my main arguments against corporate control of government. Because the corporate response to the policy that was about to reduce their profits, despite the fact that it would be terrific for public health — was to try to change the rules so they could continue to get away with the poisoning of the American people.
Most importantly, to the degree that public awareness was raised, it was at least partially due to the fact that the paper was easy to find, so it stood out amongst the hogwash that corporations were publishing, at the time. And that is the primary reason for summarizing information and linking to it, rather than copying it. Doing that (and sharing an article link using Twitter or Facebook, for example) helps to reduce the 50-year gap between the availability of important information and public awareness of it. Failing to do so only extends that lag — a time period during which major corporations profit at the expense of the public.
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