Medical Musings, Health Hypotheses & Therapeutic Thoughts
We live in a time of unprecedented access to information, with almost the sum knowledge of humanity seemingly only a few clicks away on the internet.
This is almost a problem, because with the huge amount of (often contradictory) information out there, how do you know who and what to trust?
The internet is a great leveller. No-one is ‘in charge’, and anyone can build a website.
If I decided I wanted to make a site explaining that Paul McCartney died in 1966 and was replaced by a lookalike, or that the earth is flat, there are no educational or professional qualifications required, and no rules or regulations that will stop me from doing so.
So you can’t automatically assume that anything you find on the internet is true .
So how can you assess the trustworthiness of a site giving you health information, assuming you don’t have a degree in medicine yourself? We can use tools to help analyse information, regardless of what it is about.
Whatever you are reading, you can ask yourself questions about:
Who wrote this? Where? And Why? Context is always key to understanding information.
We can use the ABC formula of evaluation:
Using tools like these, even if we know nothing about the subject matter, we can assess likely bias and decide whether or not the website we are looking at is likely to help us find out about our search topic.
Also keep an eye out for a ‘Shop’ or ‘eStore’ button somewhere, this will give important indications as to the operators’ goals.
It should always be clear who wrote the content, and whether it is accepted information (look for citations and references to the original data or peer-reviewed work), an opinion piece/blog, or an advertisement.
What are some other points to keep in mind?
Some signs that you are on the wrong site(!):
Look at the general tone of the information. Is it too emotional? Does it promote miracle cures?
As a general rule, the old adage If it looks too good to be true, it probably is holds up; if the claims made are unbelievable, you probably shouldn’t believe them!
Just because Beyonce, Jim Carrey or Gwynneth Paltrow believe something about science or health, does not make it more likely to be true (unless they are talking about entertainment!).
By the same token, “chemicals” is often thrown around like a it’s a bad thing.
Dihydrogen monoxide is a chemical. It’s also another way of saying water, which composes around 70% of our bodies. Everything is made of chemicals, and the study of how this all works is called chemistry.
Now, if you know that they are talking about water, you can see how everything mentioned on the page is true, but taken out of context and spun in such a way as to make it sound very scary indeed.
In fact, in 1997, Nathan Zohner, a fourteen year old student from Idaho Falls, as part of a science project gave 50 fellow students a paper called “Dihydrogen Monoxide: The Unrecognized Killer” . He subsequently gathered 43 signatures calling for the ban of “DHMO”, six were undecided, and only one recognised that "DHMO" was in fact plain ol' water.
Notably, the title of this science project was “How Gullible Are We?”.
So, don’t be one of Nathan’s classmates. Read everything critically, and chase up any claims and sources found in the text.
 it’s funny that people seem to have forgotten that, because it was incessantly repeated to me, as a young internet user (I was in my teens in the nineties and early noughties), that I should “never trust anything you read online, always protect your real identity/details, oh and did I mention not trusting anything or anyone you come across on the internet?”
 Mikkelson, David (June 22, 1999). "Is Dihydrogen Monoxide Dangerous?". Snopes.com. Retrieved November 24, 2019.