The internet has made information available and accessible to everyone like never before. The great equalizer: anyone can post online and anyone can learn about anything. All of this access allows us to read about exciting breakthroughs in science or reach out to our favorite celebrity on social media. This available information does not come without its drawbacks, as not all information is true or valid, especially when it pertains to health, wellness, and nutrition. However, with careful researching, most everyone can find good information that they can use to along with medical guidance to reach and maintain optimal health.
Types of Sources
The first step is making sure the article comes from a valid source. Valid sources can include two different types: primary and secondary. A primary article is written by someone actually in the field: a doctor, a scientist, or a professional organization, such as the Academy of Dietetics and Nutrition. Generally, these sources will be written on a higher level and may contain technical information but comes directly from someone with the background to make recommendations. Primary sources might be found on research websites, such as PubMed, the National Library of Medicine, or the World Health Organization. A secondary article is written by someone about a primary source. An example would be a news story about a new cancer treatment and its findings. A secondary source can make an article easier to understand for the general public, but can also dilute the original story whether intentionally or not. A good secondary source will have a link to the primary source it is written about, as well as the credentials of the author (for example, an Extension Agent with a health education certification) and the credentials of the original study (a clinical trial led by “Dr. Smith” a board-certified oncologist). Be wary of any article without sources or without a listed author. This is not to say the information in the article is not true, but it must be verified with another article before it is to be trusted.
The second step is attempting to remove any bias from an article. Bias can come in many forms. Examples of bias might include a blogger who has a “go to” diet that “everyone should do” or a drug company paying a scientist to research their medicine and release good findings. Bias is much harder to verify because it involves questioning the motives behind an article rather than an article itself. A good way to determine bias is to research the author(s) or corporation itself. This can determine what type of background they have and should be done as part of researching a source. The next step is to determine the funding source for a study. A group that is publicly funded or third party funded is less likely to be biased than one dependent on funds from a company.
The third step is finding another source to verify the claims made by the original article. This is an important step if you cannot find much information on the author or funding source. The goal is to find another article, written by an independent person or group that did a similar experiment with similar findings. Similar articles may be found using search engines, such as Google, with the title of the first article, or claims made by the article. For example “Choose My Plate Guidelines 2019” or “Make half your grains whole grains.”
I’m Ready to Get Started, What Next?
With your newfound knowledge of finding valid sources and verifying claims, explore health topics that interest you. You might use these skills the next time you see a health claim on Facebook or Buzzfeed, use these research skills to determine whether the information can be trusted. It is also important to remember information is best served with application. If you are interested in making a change in your lifestyle or health, talk with your doctor and healthcare professional to explore ways this information may be useful in your life and your current health status. They can help you with areas you may be stuck or not understand. Feel free to reach out to your local Health Extension Agent for help getting embedded with a healthcare system or finding good resources.
- International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions. (2017, January 27). How to Spot Fake News. Retrieved February 15, 2019, from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:How_to_Spot_Fake_News.jpg
- Research & Course Guides: Policy Studies: Primary Sources. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://clemson.libguides.com/c.php?g=230481&p=1530289