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Searching the Internet for Good Quality, Reliable Information 1 st Year Biology & Zoology, November 2007 Tutor: Ric Paul, Biomedical Sciences Library Introduction There is a lot of very useful information on the Internet There is also a lot of very misleading information on the Internet
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Searching the Internet for Good Quality, Reliable Information 1st Year Biology & Zoology, November 2007 Tutor: Ric Paul, Biomedical Sciences Library
Introduction • There is a lot of very useful information on the Internet • There is also a lot of very misleading information on the Internet • Some of it is just old • Some of it is deliberately misleading • Some of it is well intentioned, but is biased • For your University studies, and your medical career, it is critical that you use only good quality, reliable information
This Presentation • You will try some searches of Google and Intute – this is an alternative search engine that you have probably not encountered before • You will look critically at the websites we find, and attempt to determine how reliable they may or may not be • You will then discover some ways to find good quality information, using Google and other resources
A Basic Search • For most people, the starting point of an Internet search is Google • Try searching Google for mad cow www.google.co.uk • How many hits did you get? • How many of the results on the first page would be useful in researching mad cow disease?
A Closer Look at a Page • It is likely that one of the first few hits you retrieved was for the Official Mad Cow Disease Home Page www.mad-cow.org • Have a closer look at this page and think carefully about the following questions before you continue: • How useful is it? • How reliable is the information? (This is not a trick question – once you’ve got a feel for the page, continue to the next slide)
Reviewing the Website • Now consider the following questions: • Who wrote the page? • Are they biased? • How old is the information? • When was it last updated? • Given your responses to those questions… • How reliable is this resource? • Could you use it confidently to help research an essay about mad cow disease?
Background to the Website • Towards the top of the page you’ll see that it was last updated “17 Apr 2001” • You’ll notice that the news items are rather old • There is no claim of authorship on the page… • …so whilst it claims to be the “official” mad cow disease home page, we have no idea who has awarded it this “official” title • At the top of the news section there is a link: “News 2001 has moved…”
The OCA • The link takes you to the Organic Consumers Association • Now we can see that, as well as being quite old, the page has also been written by a pressure group – and is therefore far from an unbiased source • The important thing is not whether you agree with the OCA or not • The important thing is that they will have a particular point of view, which will have an inherent bias
Another Example • Let’s try another example • A search for the chemical dihydrogen monoxide is likely to retrieve the following page: www.dhmo.org/facts.html • Look at the page and decide how reliable this information may or may not be • Who wrote the page? • Are they biased or not? • When it was last updated? • Again, spend some time on this before continuing
Analysing the Website: Pros • There is a lot of good, detailed information • It is backed by the US Environmental Assessment Center – sounds like a good source • We have the name of the author
Analysing the Website: Cons • We don’t know the background or qualifications of the author • We don’t know when it was last updated • It has the tone of scaremongering • It also has a “.org” URL, used for “not for profit organisations”, commonly association with pressure groups and the like • Now think again about dihydrogen monoxide…
Dihydrogen Monoxide • Dihydrogen monoxide is two hydrogen molecules and one oxygen – the chemical formula of which is H2O… water! • Everything on the site is true – the website has been deliberate written to show how facts can be distorted, and how easy it is for a website to be misleading • It is a good demonstration of how careful you have to be when using the Internet for your research
Improving Our Google Search • Returning to our mad cow disease search, consider how you might improve it • (Which may also get you thinking “what would I consider being an improvement?”) • Try out an improved search www.google.co.uk
Look for an exact phrase Restrict your search to pages updated recently Look for pages only from certain domains
Domain Types • The domain (the last part of the URL) can tell you a lot about the resource you are looking at • Roughly speaking: • .com Commercial organisation • .co.uk UK commercial organisation, or private site • .net Commercial organisation, or private site • .ac.uk UK academic website • .edu US academic website • .gov Government website • .nhs.uk NHS website • .org Not-for-profit organisation (could be a pressure group, a NGO, QUANGO, or similar)
Alternatively… • Perhaps the most straightforward way to improve your search results is to look at your search terms • The quality of the result you get out are directly related to the quality of search terms you put in • A search for “mad cow” gets you lots of irrelevant material • Why? Because the term is now used in so many other contexts
Better Terminology • A search using more scientific terminology will yield far better results: • BSE • Bovine spongiform encephalopathy • CJD (or vCJD, nvCJD) • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease • These terms will find websites specifically discussing BSE and/or CJD • They are also more likely to have scientific information, since they are using scientific terminology (“more likely” is important, though!)
An Alternative to Google • Google is undoubtedly an excellent search engine • (One reason I’ve used the “mad cow” example is that it demonstrates so clearly the issues that I’d like you to consider… I’d hoped that the more contemporary example of “bird flu” might work just as well but, annoyingly, Google gets very good results!) • However, there is an alternative (and I don’t mean Yahoo, Alta Vista, MSN Search, etc.) • Try the “mad cow” search on Intute: www.intute.ac.uk/healthandlifesciences
Intute • You should notice: • You get far fewer results • However, each one has a full description of the site • They should all come from reasonably trustworthy sources • Intute is a “gateway”, rather than a general search engine like Google • It is aimed at the UK academic community (notice it has a “.ac.uk” URL)
Intute • Google automatically indexes any and every site that it’s “spiders” encounter on their trawls through the Internet • Intute only includes websites selected by its subject experts (it’s indexers) • The indexers look for resources that fit the subject profile of Intute, and which pass a stringent quality control test • Only the best, most reliable websites make it onto the Intute database
Improved Intute Search • Return to Intute and run a search on “bovine spongiform encephalopathy” or “bse” www.intute.ac.uk/healthandlifesciences
Improved Search Results • Unlike with Google, you should actually find more results with this change in terminology • (Although neither search returns anywhere near as many results as Google does) • Since Intute is aimed at the UK academic community, you’ll get far better results by using academic or scientific terminology
Google: Covers far more of the Internet Will find you lots of useful information But will also find lots of irrelevant information You must assess each site that you find for its relevance and reliability Intute: Has much smaller coverage of the Internet Will find you some really useful websites May also miss lots of useful information Although the websites have already been assessed, you should still look at them critically Google vs Intute • So which is better? It sort of depends…
Assessing Websites • We’ve already touched on how you would assess the reliability of a website that you find, but let’s look at it in more detail • Try to think of up to three things that you’d look for in a website, to determine how reliable it is • Once you’ve spent a couple of minutes thinking about that, move on
Who, When & Where • There are lots of specific things you can look for on a website, but it boils down to answering three simple questions: Who? When? Where? • Who wrote the website? • Do they have any qualifications or expertise in the area? • Are they presenting an unbiased and balanced point of view? • Are they backing up their arguments with facts based on scientific research?
Who, When, Where • When • When was the page first written? • When was it last updated or checked? • Given the nature of the subject area, how out-of-date does this make the website? • Where • What type of website is it? Commercial? Governmental? Academic? Personal? • Does the organisation it is representing have a balanced or biased point of view on the topic?
Assessing Websites • You may not be able to answer all of those questions • If so, don’t worry: • …the answers to the questions you can deal with… • …plus knowing the questions you cannot deal with… • …should give you an impression of the reliability of the website
Learning More • To find out more about using the Internet to find reliable information, I would strongly recommend that you take one of the tutorials (whichever best fits your subject) from the menu of Health & Life Sciences topics: • www.vts.intute.ac.uk • This will introduce you to some useful starting points in your Internet searching and will look in more detail at how you can assess the quality and reliability of the sites that you find
Internet for Medicine • It shouldn’t take you too long to complete • But even experienced Internet users are likely to discover some useful techniques and resources
Further Help & Guidance • If you would like help at any stage with literature or information searching, then contact me: • Ric Paul, R.M.Paul@soton.ac.uk • I can give you detailed advice on searching for journal articles, using web resources, referencing and anything to do with Library resources