StATS: Research on the web (June 27, 2006)

I found this quote in WXPnews, an email newsletter covering developments with Microsoft Windows XP for the typical end user:

Doing research on the Web is like using a library assembled piecemeal by pack rats and vandalized nightly. - Roger Ebert as quoted in the June 27, 2006 issue of WXPnews, www.wxpnews.com/archives/wxpnews-233-20060627.htm

This is a good quote and worth remembering. It especially applies to Wikipedia, an open source encyclopedia developed by a team of volunteers. It has a lot of useful information, but because anyone can volunteer to produce and edit information, it has problems with vandals. I had discussed some of this controversy in an entry in the Chance Wiki

and I also discuss it briefly in Chapter 7 of my book. I can't produce the whole chapter, but here is a brief excerpt:

7.5.1 Gauging the quality of Internet resources

Anyone can publish on the Internet, and there is very little if any attempt to monitor for misleading or even fraudulent claims. Most of the people like me who publish information on the Internet do so without any overt bias or ill intentions, but you still need to be cautious. How do you evaluate a website to see if it provides credible and reliable health information? There are a variety of things that you should look at. Here are some guidelines loosely based on the Health on the Net Foundationís code of conduct at: www.hon.ch/HONcode/Conduct.html

  1. Is the advice being offered by a medically trained professional?
  2. Is the advice intended to support rather than replace the care you get
    from your doctor?
  3. Is your confidentiality respected?
  4. Is the advice backed up by references and hyperlinks to the original
    sources?
  5. Are the claims presented in a fair and balanced manner?
  6. Is it obvious who wrote the material?
  7. Are commercial sponsors and noncommercial supporters clearly
    identified?
  8. Is the material on the web page developed independently of any advertising
    or other sources of revenue?

Be especially aware of material presented by professional organizations and advocacy groups. They do offer a lot of valuable and important information, but are unlikely to produce material that discusses limitations, side effects, and other problems.

As long as your are cautious, I believe you can find reliable information on the Internet.

This page was written by Steve Simon while working at Children's Mercy Hospital. Although I do not hold the copyright for this material, I am reproducing it here as a service, as it is no longer available on the Children's Mercy Hospital website. Need more information? I have a page with general help resources. You can also browse for pages similar to this one at Category: Teaching resources.