The amount and scope of information available on the Web is both amazing and bewildering. Since anyone with access to a computer, an Internet connection and an HTML editor can publish a web page, you might think you should not trust the information you find on the Web any further than you can throw your CPU. But online research "is just like any other kind of research," says Helen E. Brown, manager of development research t the Harvard School of Public Health. "You just have to discern the sites that will give you the right information."
Separating the wheat from the chaff of online information can be difficult. Even getting advice on how to evaluate resources on the Web is n overwhelming task. Type in "evaluating web resources" on the search engine Alta Vista, and you'll get about 1200 hits!
Librarians Jan Alexander and Marsha Ann Tate published a book called Web Wisdom: How to Evaluate and Create Information Quality on the Web (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1999). They divide web pages into five types: advocacy, business/marketing, news, informational and personal. When evaluating any web page, Alexander and Tate suggest, a researcher should ask a set of questions to determine and evaluate each of five criteria: authority, accuracy, objectivity, currency and coverage.
When you surf the Web to learn about cancer prevention, or any other health topic, go to reliable, well-known sources. Good starting points are governmental research institution, such as the National Cancer Institute and the Centers for Disease Control (health-related US government agencies publish many of their brochures online); highly respected advocacy groups such as the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association: and academic institutions. Read the online health section of a magazine or newspaper you trust. Once you find the specific information you are looking for your work is not done. Extend your research to answer the question: Is this information widely accepted or is it a subject of debate among scientists and cancer prevention experts?
Two professionals can help you if you're still cyber confused: your librarian and, more importantly, your doctor. Information found on the web cannot substitute for a physician's advice. If you have questions or are considering making a major lifestyle change, talk to your healthcare professional.
- from the Newsletter of the Harvard Center for Cancer Prevention
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|This content is derived from the "Charting Your Course Seminars: A Whole Person Approach To Living With Cancer", provided by Norris Cotton Cancer Center.|