Monday, May 13, 2013

How best to research health issues

I taught my students how to search for accurate information. I also taught them to type "AND kids" to keep them away from adult-content sites. This is a Boolean Operator.

Boolean searching is built on a method of symbolic logic developed by George Boole, a 19th century English mathematician. 

Yes, while there is much information on the Internet, there is much garbage, as well.
The same is true now, twenty years later, only there are many more webpages, created by people only wanting to sell you something.
As with magazines, who sell advertising based on subscription numbers, a web page can gain a higher search engine profile by simply attracting you to their site. (This is called SEO.)

In order to find accurate information, you must ensure that the site you are visiting has
1) Authority: an agency or a government hosts the site, a professional or a journalist writes the article?
2) Accuracy: Written by professionals, with credentials, well-researched, with sources cited.
3) Objectivity: Isn't connected to a particular pharmaceutical, or one trying to recommend a particular drug from one company and is unbiased, and accurate.
4) Intended Audience and Level of Information: for patients or professionals?
5) Date of publication (within the last 5 years)
6) Scope/Depth/Breadth: Is it comprehensive, does it include various points of view? Do you a quick read, with 'How Tos' or a chat room where you can talk to other caregivers or care recipients?

There’s a lot of information at PubMed Health, for example, and lots more is added every week. Also, look for Health Canada ( websites, or whichever national or municipal government that applies.

I have a hard time doing research myself. I get frustrated with the ads, and the stolen information. Google Scholar is a good engine to use, as it looks for juried articles, done by the pros. That said, many journal articles are controlled by invisible parameters, and some gets published that shouldn't be. Journalists often misinterpret a published item, saying we should avoid milk, for example, based on a small, invalid or unreliable study.

When you search for items, you must remember that infamous

Boolean Operator Search:

1. Using the words NOT, AND, OR (in capital letters) ensures that you either exclude, include or find synonyms you may not have thought about.

2. Using a truncated word, you might want to use prevent*, whereby the search engine will find words like prevention, or preventing. An asterisk (*), question mark (?), or pound sign (#).

3. If you use quotes, "breast cancer", you will ONLY find breast cancer-related information. Don't use them if you don't need to look for related information.

4. Don't use Stopwords- words that slow down a search, will be ignored, or complicate it:

  • articles (a, an, the)
  • prepositions (of, on, in, with)
  • conjunctions (but, however).

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