Websites: Credible or Not?
Assessing health and medical information on the web can be tricky at times and there are no hard-and-fast rules about what is 100% credible, what may be credible (but requires further investigation), and what is not credible.
Below are some guidelines that can be used to gauge a site's credibility, but all of them exist within the context of your expertise and ability to think critically about the information presented (and how it is presented).
R = Relevancy
- Is this information relevant for your study, assignment, or topic?
A = Authority
- Do the authors present their credentials and institutional affiliations?
- Are you able to look at other publications by the authors?
- What institutions or entities are affiliated with the site? Are they commercial or non-commercial?
- Does the site offer links or contact information to obtain more information?
- Do the authors present citations and references for source material?
D = Date
- How current is the information?
A = Appearance
- Does the website look professional?
- Are there grammatical or typographical errors?
- What reading level is the material? Is it meant for experts, consumers, or children?
- Ads: are there ads on the website? If so, what kinds of products/services are they advertising?
R = Reason
- What is the purpose of this website?
- Inform and educate?
- Argue and persuade?
- Sell or market products/services?
- Question and discuss?
- Satire or humor?
- Are you able to detect bias?
Source: Mandalio J. (2013). RADAR: an approach for helping students evaluate Internet sources. Journal of Information Science, 39(4): 470-478.
Health on the Net (HON) HONcode Principles
Health on the Net (HON) offers certification for medical and health websites that meet certain criteria. While it is unlikely that veterinary websites participate in HON certification, the HONcode Principles still serve a good guidelines when appraising information online.
- Who created this information? Did they disclose their qualifications and credentials? Are their qualifications and credentials from a credible source?
- Does the site state that it "is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between a patient and the patient's physician?" Does the site seek to complement physician advice or to replace it?
- Does the website comply with maintaining the privacy and confidentiality of patients and site visitors?
- Attribution and date
- Does the website or article disclose or link out to source material and data?
- Is the website current? (Hint: look at the copyright or last modified notice at the bottom of the page or the dates for the most recent postings)
- Are arguments balanced, presenting evidence for both sides?
- Does the material seem to focus on one bias and ignore all others (or immediately dismiss) without explanation?
- Are references and sources provided with attributions or information on where to find them? (See Principle #4)
- Do the site creators or authors provide information on how to contact them or find further support?
- Financial disclosure
- Does the site or its authors disclose funding sources or sponsorships (both commercial and not for profit entities)?
- Advertising policy
- Are ads used as a source of funding?
- Are ads easy to differentiate from the site source material?
- What kinds of products or services are featured in the ads?
- Do the ads display inherent bias?
Source: Health on the Net Since 1995. Certification: The HONcode Principles. 2018. Accessed from https://www.hon.ch/en/certification.html