Wednesday, April 04, 2007

I Searched It On Google

I remember a made-for-tv movie that aired a few years ago, dramatizing the events surrounding the hysteria cause by a radio broadcast of Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds", a novel written some years earlier by H.G. Wells.

I know that there was a sort of mass-hysteria caused during this broadcast, and the movie showed some instances of the hysteria, including one where a father was preparing to kill his family to spare them any harm at the hands of the alien invaders.

The events demonstrated the power of radio as a medium, and made the point that one should always pay attention to all the details of dissemintated information, and that only getting half the story can have far-reaching consequences.

In our day and age, information is thrown at us by a lot more sources. For many, the main center of info is the Internet. "Googling" is a major pasttime for a lot of people, and sites such as WebMD have put a lot of information at our fingertips.

Now while there has been little in the way of mass-hysteria caused by anything brought to us by the Internet, we're never outside the realm of that possibility. The most obvious example is the "Urban Legends" that circulate regularly. Who hasn't seen at least one example of the promises of "riches" bestowed upon anyone who is simply willing to forward an email. I do know of a few instances where people heard a crazy story and made it their own, citing how something happened to "a good friend" or a "brother's uncle's co-worker's niece". I remember one local incident, where a popular household brand of air freshener was said to be harming animals, and in our case, a cat had toppled a shelf in a laundry room, and had it's eye injured by a falling bottle of Febreze. (The spray nozzle caught the cat's eyelid)

And who doesn't know at least one person who self-diagnoses an illness, because they pulled up the symptoms on WebMD? I had a friend who suffered for about 6 months with what she self-diagnosed as a "migraine". When she was finally forced to seek medical assistance, the actual doctor diagnosed and treated her for a severe sinus infection.

Touchy stuff. I read the blog of a woman who announced to the world that a needle EMG had given her the diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis, although a manufacturer of needle EMG equipment stated on its website that the EMG was not a tool used in the evaluation of MS. To quote:"MS cannot be evaluated by EMG because MS is caused by a demeyelination at the Central Nervous System level which is not investigated by EMG"

But that's just an example.

Some people have taken to "Googling" to validate nearly any argument they can come up with. What is lost on those folks is that Google simply brings results that are present on the Web. If the search matches your search criteria, back it comes! Google doesn't verify or validate the veracity of such information, just simply that it exists on a server somewhere in the Internet. Yet so many people seem content to accept something as fact, or present it as "evidence" because they found something through Google.

Of course, in my case, what came to mind was Rosie O'Donnell's recent rant about the whole "9/11 Conspiracy", and how she tried to enforce her theories by saying "USE GOOGLE". I, being of a different mindset, found just as many sources of information arguing against the idea of an American Conspiracy as she found in support of such an idea. So, now what? I need to mention that some of my "sources" were not qualified experts, or people that could truly back up the information they presented, they simply wrote about the topic, so up they came when I Googled the right search terms.

Let's face it folks, if we Google in "bears" we're likely to find such results as a Chicago football team, or Winnie The Pooh, lined up on the same page as grizzly bears or polar bears. Which returns would you likely consult if you were trying to write a 10-page report on the lifestyle of a wild bear?

The information is there, folks. Doesn't mean it's valid.


  1. And just because Rosie says it, doesn't mean it's valid either.

    I wish more people would realize that, instead of adding fuel to her fire.

  2. I was mis-diagnosed by 5 docs with MS over a 4yr span because no one gave me an EMG. Darned if you do, darned if you don't. I've got more info on ALS from the net than from most doctors. It's not gospel but it helped me ;)

  3. I actually had a graduate class about research that talked about being careful with our sources. The internet can be a 'wasteland' of useless, unvalid info. We need to always check the source of the info.

    I'd call Rosie a bad source.

    It's interesting how 'google' has become a verb in our vocabulary.

  4. Good point!



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