Book publishers should be accountable for what they print

From gluten, to antioxidants, to probiotics, it seems there's always someone claiming a diet or food can change your life if you eat it — or avoid it. But since those claims often get published in books, Dr. James Hamblin says publishers need to take more responsibility for what they print.
A customer shops at the opening day for Amazon Books, the first brick-and-mortar retail store for online retail giant Amazon. James Hamblin of The Atlantic says far too many publishers are promoting books that make health claims that have not been proven or fact-checked. (Elaine Thompson/AP)

Walk into a book store or scroll through the virtual aisles on Amazon, and it won't take long to realize how many diet fads get published.

Whether it's a new wonder food you should eat or some kind of nutrient you should avoid — the claim often made in these books is that if you follow along, your health and life will be changed forever. 

At least that's the trend, James Hamblin has noticed. 

Hamblin, a senior editor at The Atlantic, says he sees a new book that follows this formula constantly and as a medical doctor he's concerned about the lack of accountability in the publishing industry. 

When I first came into this role at The Atlantic, I thought there were just a few books like this, from a few unscrupulous, entrepreneurial minded doctors and celebrities, and it turns out there are many many many. So how do you actually stem this tide? I was thinking if a magazine or a newspaper published a story like this — that turned out to be incomplete or misleading or making claims about health that were really unfounded — that magazine or newspaper would be held accountable. People would cancel their subscriptions. They would say they can't trust what they read in The Atlantic or the New Yorker. But it doesn't happen that way with books.-James Hamblin

​Hamblin, who published a book in December, says the onus should fall to publishers for two reasons.

He says while it's rare for the publishing industry to check the facts in the claims made in a book, the same industry then goes on to boost that message — even though it hasn't verified the claims.  

When a book comes out you have a publicist, working for a publishing house, who's reaching out to editors like me saying things like 'drop everything you're doing, read this book, it's going to change your life, we'd love for you to write about this book, so please do it',  signed by a person from an imprint like Harper Collins. So Harper Collins is investing in amplifying this message. So if they choose to amplify a message that the scientific community is saying could be harmful or seriously misleading to people, then there should be some form of damage to the brand. But right now, there just isn't.- James Hamblin


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