Plagued by Doubt and Viral Misinformation: The Need for Evidence-based Use of Historical Disease Images
The Lancet Infectious Diseases
© 2016 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
The digitisation of historical disease images and their widespread availability on the internet have been a boon to education and research, but with unintended consequences, including the misrepresentation of infectious diseases in the past and the viral spread of misinformation. Many medieval images containing scenes of infectious disease come from non-medical sources and are not meant to convey any medical meaning. Erroneous modern captions have led to the publication of several historical images labelled as depictions of the plague, although artistic and textual evidence shows that they are not. Mislabelled images lose their intended historical narrative, and their use creates a distorted view of the past and of the disease in question. Scholars should give the same careful consideration to an image's evidentiary context that they would insist on giving to all other forms of evidence.
This is the author accepted manuscript. The final version is available from Elsevier via the DOI in this record.
Volume 16 (10), pp. e235 - e240