Accuracy of Info on the Web

August 7, 2014

“Don’t believe everything you read”
a primer on healthy web searching

This long-standing piece of wisdom was good advice to follow in the past for anything in print, and is even more applicable today with the avalanche of online information threatening to bury our brains.

In 2005, the journal Nature famously reported the results of a study comparing a source that had an excellent reputation, Encyclopaedia Britannica, with Wikipedia. On average, Wikipedia had just four errors per article, while Britannica, long-revered for its accuracy, and to the surprise of many, contained three.

A healthy skepticism needs to characterize our information searches, particularly in the area of health care. Here are some good questions to ask:

Who is in charge of the web site?
Why are they providing the site?

Where does the money to support the site come from?
Does the site have advertisements, and are they clearly labeled as advertisements?

Where does the information on the site come from?
How is the content selected?
Do experts review the information that goes on the site?
Does the site make claims that are unbelievable or emotional?
Is it up to date?

Does the site ask for your personal information?
Do they tell you how it will be used?
Are you comfortable with how it will be used?

Answering questions like these reveals clues about the quality of information on the site. You can usually find the answers on the main page or the “About Us” page of a web site.

Another wise move is to review several high-quality web sites to see if similar information appears in a number of places. Looking at many good sites also gives a wider view of an issue.

The advice given here—and it is good advice—comes from the National Library of Medicine, a highly reputable source (you can check it out with the guidelines above!).

-Kathleen Fiola, MLS, AHIP
Library Director