Darren Chase has an interesting post at medlibrarian.net about NewsTrust that I wanted to leave him a comment about, but the comments on his blog are turned off, so this post will have to suffice. Here’s what Darren posted:
The part of Darren’s post that really caught my attention was this:
Overall, it succeeds in its goal to “identifying trusted news sources hidden in the deluge of information available online.”
If the site works like Digg (and it seems to), a high user score for an item indicates that a high number of users scored the item as good. So it would seem to measure popularity of an item among NewsTrust users. How does this indicate anything about authority?
From the site itself:
How do you pick which stories to feature on the NewsTrust site?
The content on the NewsTrust homepage is continually being update by story reviews and new submissions. Generally speaking, stories displaying a high level of journalistic quality as judged by our citizen reviewers, are more likely to appear on front page of the site.
So it would seem that health news stories are submitted to the site by “citizen reviewers” (with no apparent credentials or training in the health sciences) on the basis of “journalistic quality.” Then they are scored by popular vote by people who are also not health or information professionals.
Here are a couple stories I found in the Health News section, submitted to NewsTrust by these citizen reviewers “on the basis of journalistic quality:”
- Female Orgasm Techniques
- Universal Health Care Run by Psychotics
Could a medical librarian really recommend these as authoritative or trustworthy sources for health news? Could any librarian responsibly recommend NewsTrust as a useful tool for identifying trustworthy sources of information? What the heck is “journalistic quality”? The site doesn’t even list its criteria for evaluating a source, much less meet the standards of evaluation that should satisfy an information professional.
I think there are times when social models are not the best way of separating the the wheat from the chaff. I appreciate the “wisdom of crowds” as a concept and as a useful model for some applications, but the “wisdom” of a crowd of laypeople cannot reliably be used to identify trustworthy or authoritative sources of health information. That can only be done effectively by health professionals- most ideally by health professionals that are specially trained to be expert in finding and evaluating health information: Medical Librarians.
The World Wide Web is glutted with health information that is of poor quality, outdated, inaccurate, confusing, or just fraudulent. The need to help consumers navigate and find quality health information has never been greater. I’m concerned that a casual endorsement like this one at medlibrarian.net could seriously mislead a consumer who stumbled across it and misrepresent the value of medical librarians.
What do you think? Am I off-base in giving Darren a hard time about this? Please leave a comment and share your thoughts.