Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Librarian Navel Gazing

I've been musing about this for weeks.

When we are teaching library patrons about evaluating the information that they find on the Internet, I always use the example of health information. You should find an author that you trust on a health topic, instead of depending on the information put on the web by "Bill in his basement who said 'I put toothpaste on the wart for 14 days and it went away!'", or information from websites that want to sell you a charlatanesque cure-all.

But, think about this for a minute. What if 1,000 people or 5,000 people say on their individual websites/blogs that putting toothpaste on a wart made it go away? At what point is there a critical mass of individual reports that makes this sort of health information on the Internet valid? Medical professionals have strong medical training and access to medical knowledge resources, but they still base their diagnosis to great extent on what the patient tells them is wrong or what hurts.

There is no quantifiable way that I know of to test my toothpaste-wart theory, but it makes for good pondering as I walk to work in the mornings. Of course, news alerts might be an interesting way to get a loose sense of something like this, if I can get a topic that is focused enough.

My colleague and I are going to prepare a public computer class for the Fall on 'News Aggregators and News Alerts', and she was thinking of setting up a news alert for 'Sasquatch' (a.k.a. Bigfoot). I think this news alert would be so much fun.


Blogger liz said...

This morning NPR (the only decent news source up here besides CBC) was discussing Wikipedia, which I think is a solution addressing something at least close to what you're discussing.

It ends up being esssentially a peer-reviewed news source. Stuff that is too "way out" gets edited out pretty quick, but common experience stays.

7:13 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this is a link to what the wikipedia had to say about the wart thing:


3:53 pm  
Blogger Gwen said...

Good God. Okay, the toothpaste-wart thing, Squirrel Boy, is something I completely made up to use as an example. And yet, there it is, in the Wiki! The world is one freaky place.

Now I shall have to try the Wiki on some other MORE REAL theories that I have for health topics!

3:58 pm  

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