As with many issues, consumers all over the world are turning to the internet for information. This includes everything from movie reviews, political opinion, car part specifications, genealogical research and health information. There is a problem, however, and I call it the wikidization of information.
Wikipedia is an outstanding collaborative work of volunteers to catalog and define almost everything in the world. The problem is that it is not peer reviewed, it is subject to a loose editorial control at best and can be flat out wrong. This is not to say that it does not serve a useful purpose. It is a great starting point to frame a debate or determine the level of controversy around a topic. It is unacceptable as a research reference in scholarly work.
People rarely know how to reach out for source documentation on a topic. They often stop at the first piece of information which confirms their preconceived notions. Rarely do they consider the possible biases of information sources and too frequently distrust official sites, believing them to be dishonest or unscrupulous.
For example, many people seek out a low calorie diet. Concerned by the claims raised in the 1970s about saccharin, they seek out “natural” sugar substitutes. This can be unrefined sugars, molasses and products such as stevia. What few
Stevia is not approved as a food ingredient in the
This has led to uninformed decisions about food and how we eat. In my opinion, a balanced, sensible diet – coupled with exercise – is the key to a healthy, happy life. Individuals need to make informed decisions and resist being swayed by questionable or inflammatory information. The American Council on Science and Health encourages individuals to seek information from reliable sources. From the abovementioned publication;
Distinguishing between reliable and unreliable information sources on the World Wide Web can be challenging. Simply entering a topic into an Internet search engine is not the best way to obtain science-based advice. A better approach is to visit trustworthy health-related Web sites, such as the National Library of Medicine site, the U.S. government’s health clearinghouse site, the sites of government agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration or the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or the sites of trusted professional organizations or voluntary groups such as the American Dietetic Association, the American Heart Association, or the American Cancer Society , and then search within the collections of documents at these sites for information on a specific topic. In instances where something sounds too good — or too horrible — to be true, it’s also a good idea to see whether the topic in question is discussed on the Urban Legends Reference Pages and/or Quackwatch. Both sites are reliable, and they are frequently updated with new information about various health myths and misinformation.