Thursday, August 28, 2008

Oops, Pew did it again: 'Folklore and quackery' as Internet healthcare indicator?

First, a thank you to David Rothman for the shoutout about my post yesterday regarding the Pew Internet E-Patient report-as-perspective column. For those joining me as a result of that, welcome! This entry is a bit more about why I began this blog a little over 4 months ago. For those who have been with me a while, I'm not exactly still keeping "quiet and observ[ing] for now without expounding in public," am I?

The first glance at the RSS feed alerting me of yet another Pew Internet report released yesterday brought my immediate skepticism. The title of Whither the Internet? told me nothing about its contents although it's listed in the E-Gov and E-Policy section, and even worse it didn't match the webpage's title element of IGF Survey (which also told me nothing). This time I clicked and looked straight for the icon and it was another Memo.

However, unlike the E-Patient memo, this one was reporting the results of a survey distributed at the Internet Governance Forum in Rio de Janeiro last November regarding "their views of the role of the internet around the world and how governments and other regulators should structure policy about the internet." Although the response rate was only 15% it gave specific questions, answers and figures for this individual survey. Reports (memos?) were presented as a 6 page summary and a 42 page document.

Upon first glance this was interesting but had nothing to do with health information and the internet. Then I caught this on page 3 of the 42-pager (bold emphasis mine):

Most (60%) said they believe global Internet access improves the economy – through the creation of more and better jobs – and they also agreed with the statement that Internet access improves healthcare (74%).

74%? Wow! What's the basis behind this? I found it on page 17:

Along with

This finding suggests the global legitimacy of Internet content.
Perhaps it's been a long week and I'm missing something, but I do not see how this asks "Does Internet access improve healthcare?" in the midst of a question that is confusing and biased to me when English is my first language. Survey participants included attendees from 65 countries, does the concept of 'folklore and quackery' even translate to all other cultures?

What troubles me the most about these two recent Pew Internet report/memos is that for years librarians have told both students and professors to regard them as a citable source of credible research information. To now add an asterisk depending on report or memo format (a quick scan of reports listed as Reports seems to still hit the citation mark) when the difference between the two is not explained anywhere that I can find on Pew's site is not acceptable. Maybe we should only recommend the reports Pew issues press releases for?

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