Why bother appraising medical info on the web?

In Blogging on Blogging, Evidence-Based Medicine, Web 2.0 & all that on January 20, 2009 by Alan Lovell Tagged: , , , , , , , ,

David Rothman is amusingly upset by the stupidity of an article in the Journal of Rheumatology by a couple of Canadian academics called “Trying to Measure the Quality of Health Information on the Internet: Is It Time to Move On?” The joking, one hopes, Canadians are suggesting that rather than critical appraisal and high-quality evidence and all that sort of thing, we ought rather just rely on the ‘wisdom of the crowds’. So…,

“For example, Internet users could provide ratings or recommendations based on their own experiences to judge the quality and relevance of health information. Analogous to the peer-review process, aggregation of ratings from many individuals (a form of crowdsourcing) allows “good” information to be highlighted prominently, while “not so good” information gets pushed to the bottom.”

??? Bless. Don’t get me wrong, I love playing around with stuff like Digg, but no-one, surely, thinks that it is a high quality news source? Likewise Wikipedia is great, but would you go there for medical advice? One of the authors is the ‘Chief Innovator and Founder’ of the Centre for Global eHealth Innovation which, when I try and go there, gives me a ‘page load error’. Probably for the best.


2 Responses to “Why bother appraising medical info on the web?”

  1. These authors – Jadad and Desphande – are involved in a commercial Web 2.0 venture (Jadad is on the board and Desphande is Chief Medical Officer of wellocities – see and therefore it is understandable that they argue that their system – which is based on peer-recommendations – is superior. What is less understandable is that this is not clear from the article (authors provide their fancy academic titles, and do not reveal their business interests), and what is a true scandal is that the Journal of Rheumatology is not vigilant enough to let authors who have a conflict of interest in this area write about this. A clear case of academic misconduct.

    • Good point, or at least have a clear and unequivocal statement of potential conflict of interest. Like I said, I have nothing against web2.0 applications that enable ‘wisdom of the crowd’ approaches to problem solving or knowledge creation or whatever it might be, and I am constantly amazed at just how bloody good Wikipedia is, given what it is. However I do not think, as our two erstwhile Canadian friends seem to be arguing, that this wisdom of the crowds approach is a replacement for expertise, experience and a lifetime of training and CPD etc. Percutaneous aortic valve replacement was not developed by a wise crowd of enthusiastic and well meaning amateurs.

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