Two of the most important kinds of information we look for online are about health and science. Because most of us aren’t experts on these topics, we rely on people and organizations who are experts for good information. MediaSmarts has developed new resources to help youth and adults find and recognize good information on science and health online.
Here are three tips to help you find good information about health and science topics.
- Check credentials
Start by checking that the source is a genuine expert or authority on that topic. Make sure that they have credentials in the right field.
Don’t take a site’s “About Us” page at face value, since that’s only going to have what a website’s creator wants you to know. A search for their name or web address can show you where their funding comes from and if they’re generally seen as an authority. You can also find out if other people or groups that are known experts in the field endorse them or link to them.
- Look for purpose and bias
If the source is an organization, do a bit of research to find out about their purpose and funding. Are they trying to give you unbiased information, or trying to promote a particular theory or point of view?
The biggest source of bias in science and medicine sources is sites that are selling products, such as pills, supplements or diet plans. Don’t trust any site that will make money out of you believing them.
- Go beyond the top results
Don’t assume that where something appears in search results tells you anything about its reliability. For example, a search for “should I vaccinate my children” produced four anti-vaccination sites among the top results on the day this article was written.
Don’t click on search results too quickly: Look over at least the first page of results and read the snippets under each one before clicking on any of them.
You can also search within a website by adding the word “site:” and its Web address, as in “site: mediasmarts.ca” or leave out results from a website by adding the minus sign and its Web address (as in “-mediasmarts.ca”). This can be useful when advocacy sites try to flood the Internet with articles on a particular topic.
Instead of starting with a web search, it’s often more useful to search inside a reliable source. The Canadian Paediatric Society’s Caring for Kids website (https://www.caringforkids.cps.ca/) and the Health Canada website (https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada.html) have reliable general health information. The Health on the Net Foundation offers HONsearch (https://www.hon.ch/HONsearch/Patients/index.html), a search engine that only searches sites it has certified, while WorldWideScience (https://worldwidescience.org/) is an international collaboration that searches scientific sites and databases from around the world.
For more information, check out our video and tip sheet Getting the Goods on Science and Health here: http://mediasmarts.ca/digital-media-literacy/digital-issues/authenticating-information/reality-check