The Internet contains some extremely valuable, high-quality information sources, but it also contains some very unreliable, biased sources of information and can be misleading. Websites can be created by anyone who pays for it, so not all information out there can be trusted as accurate and factual. That puts a higher burden on you to evaluate the quality of each website you use. Everyone has seen the Allstate commercial with the pretty girl who found a French model on the internet, right? You don’t want to fall into that trap! Here are some tips to follow when getting info from the World Wide Web.
1. Look for Sites from Established Institutions
The web is full of websites that were started five minutes ago. What you want are sites associated with trusted institutions that have been around for awhile and have a proven track record of reliability and integrity.
2. Look for Sites with Expertise
Look for websites that specialize in the kind of information you're seeking. So if you want information on symptoms of strep throat, check out medical websites rather than mommy blogs. Ask the question: Who is responsible for the content? What are their qualifications for providing information on this topic? Are references cited and is there a description of research methods used to obtain the data? Who reviews the information before it is published/posted? For medical information, a trained medical professional should have reviewed the research.
3. Steer Clear of Commercial Sites
Sites run by companies, businesses, or advocacy groups. They are more often than not trying to sell or convince you of something. Chances are whatever information they're presenting will be tilted in favor of their product or issue. Ask yourself: What is the underlying purpose of the site? Is the site selling something, supporting a cause, or expressing personal opinions? Has factual information been distorted or broadly interpreted?
4. Beware of Bias
Are the viewpoints expressed balanced or one sided? Who is paying for the project and what is their purpose? Here is an example: Reporters write a lot about politics, and there are plenty of political websites out there. But many of them are run by groups that have a bias in favor of one political party or philosophy. A conservative website isn't likely to report objectively on a liberal politician, and vice versa. The same goes for medical issues. Steer clear of sites that we based on opinion and instead look for ones that are non-biased and based on scientific research.
Here are some trusted sites that we recommend for medical information:
The site was developed and created by medical leaders in the field of pediatrics and adolescent medicine. Members of the Medical Advisory Board oversee all KidsGrowth content, thereby guaranteeing its medical accuracy.
The Nemours Center for Children's Health Media is a part of The Nemours Foundation, a nonprofit organization devoted to improving the health of children. They work with various medical professionals and commercial companies such as, Cheerios, Merck, Seventeen magazine, the Michael Phelps Foundation, the American Academy of Family Physicians to provide factual information and education for children and families.
www.aap.org (American Academy of Pediatrics)
The AAP is an organization of 60,000 pediatricians committed to the optimal physical, mental, and social health and well-being for all infants, children, adolescents, and young adults.
www.cdc.gov (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention)
The CDC consists of researchers, scientists, doctors, nurses, economists, communicators, educators, technologists, epidemiologists and many other professionals who all contribute their expertise to improving public health.
www.vaccinesafety.edu (Institute for Vaccine Safety: Johns Hopkins School of Public Health)
Their mission is to provide an independent assessment of vaccines and vaccine safety to help guide decision makers and educate physicians, the public and the media about key issues surrounding the safety of vaccines. The institute’s goal is to work toward preventing disease using the safest vaccines possible.
References for this article on evaluation of internet sites: Drexel University, Lee College, University of Milwalkee, & About.com/journalism