That was the original title on my article in Undark Magazine about an advertising instrument from the NorthShore University Health Systems' Neurological Institute. It has now been picked up by Slate, with a different headline.
Here is the gist of my unease with the online quiz:
The test has 23 yes-or-no questions about health and lifestyle. Some of them seem obvious (Is there a family history of Alzheimer’s? Have you had a stroke?), and some are much less intuitive (Did you complete less than 12 years of school? Does your diet include white bread every day?).
A final question asks, “Are you worried about your brain health?”
I took the test multiple times, checking only a few factors each time, and I always got the same result, in bright red letters: “Based on your answers, you may have an increased risk,” followed by instructions for arranging a consultation “with a brain health expert.” I once answered “No” to every single question except the last one, indicating only that I worried about my brain health. Nonetheless, I was still evidently facing an “increased risk” of brain disease and therefore in need of consultation. (Selecting “No” for all questions, including the final one about worrying, is apparently the only combination that generates an alternate response from the quiz: “Looks like you have a healthy brain.”)
This struck me as problematic at best. The American Medical Association’s Code of Ethics prohibits advertising that is “misleading” or creates “unjustified medical expectations,” and it requires claims to be “factually supportable.” The Brain Health Quiz, as I discovered, is almost guaranteed to generate a 100 percent hit rate, even for people without any of the objective risk factors. It purports to be making individualized assessments through meaningful screening, but it ends up pushing consultations for nearly everyone. After all, why take the quiz if you aren’t already concerned?
I have much more to say about problems with the quiz. The Slate version is here.
Bonus: This clip from Scrubs is embedded in the article: