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Yes, Humans Are Still Important: A Lesson On The Dangers Of Google
I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog analyzing the benefits and drawbacks of Internet search and applying it to healthcare communications.  I’m a big fan of these technologies and think they have a lot of potential to help the masses become better educated “consumers” of healthcare.  In addition, they have a ton of benefits for healthcare communicators.  

However, in our enthusiasm for these new technologies, we should not forget that the human element is very important.  I was reminded of this over the weekend when I came across an article by Stephen Pritchard, the Observer’s reader editor.  In his essay, he talks about how a Guardian reporter located an “expert” on antibiotic resistant bacteria via the Web who turned out to be damaged goods.  Pritchard said:

“Our magazine's health page recently sought to answer a question from a reader concerned about her mother's imminent operation and the chances of her contracting the hospital 'superbug', MRSA. A commissioning editor typed 'MRSA expert' into Google and up popped a BBC news feature and a Daily Mail piece, both quoting a Dr Chris Malyszewicz and citing him as an expert on the subject. A visit to his Chemsol website revealed that it flagged itself as a 'leader in helping to fight MRSA'.”

Pritchard explained how the reporter wrote an article citing Malyszewicz as an expert.  After it appeared, irate readers contacted the paper and said that Malyszewicz is no doctor and practices shoddy science.  

Pritchard went on to say:

“And such is our modern reliance on the computer that it's easy to forget that we have authorities here within the office: a call to our health editor or science editor would have furnished the name of a reliable expert, probably from an oldfashioned contacts book.”

This story reveals why it is so important for “the powers that be” to develop search engines that foreground reliable, accredited content (and yes, I think blogs can be very credible sources of information).  The much-maligned Google Co-op is one attempt to do this.  Healia, which I reviewed in this post, is another (and I would say, superior) option.  

Pritchard’s essay also demonstrates why we should continue to rely on tried and true oldf ashioned tools such as reading respected publications and yes, speaking to “experts.”  In short, humans are still (very) important.  

(P.S. Jessica Otte has another take on the downsides of Internet search in her pithily titled post: “Google Co-op Sucks”)

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Cheers, this has generated a really interesting discussion at my blog.

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