Where do scientists look for information on the web?

Okay, so some science information on the web is good. It is written and checked by experts (peer-reviewed) and is a balanced view of what we know and what we don’t. Then there is the other stuff.  A lot of websites are trying to sell you stuff. A lot of websites push “natural cures” “undiscovered miracles” while others offer to “balance your energy” and “boost your immune system”. There is no one magic cure for cancer, if there was, we’d all know about it, it would make the news headlines around the world. Cancer is not a single disease, so anyone who tells you they can cure “cancer” is probably trying to sell you stuff.

So where do scientists look for information on the web?  Well, first of all scientists like to read about experiments that other scientists have checked before they’ve been published, that means – peer reviewed. Most scientists start looking for information on “Pubmed“, which is an American website produced by the (American) National Library of Medicine. There is a lot of information there, more than you could ever read in a life time, last time I checked there were 2,216,718 papers on cancer. It’s updated every day. Scientists like trials done on lots of people (1,000 or 10,000 people), if a report only looks at 10-100 people it is interesting but you can’t draw too many conclusions from it.

Pubmed lists technical articles written by scientists (for scientists) so the information isn’t easy to understand and one paper on it’s own doesn’t mean that much in the great scheme of things (unless other scientists can repeat it and find the same thing).  To confuse matters all papers aren’t equal, just as Harrods is a more prestigious shop than Asda, some journals are more prestigious than others. The journals “Science” and “Nature” are often considered the best for science, whereas “The Lancet” and “The British Medical Journal” are a reliable source of medical information.

If I want to follow up a story I have heard about in the news, I usually start with the BBC News Health website, as they usually provide a short summary of the story, with a link on the right hand side to the original article. For an in depth analysis of a news report I usually check out NHS Choices – Behind the Headlines. For in depth cancer statistics I use the Cancer Research UK website for health professionals called “Cancer Stats” None of these sources of information are perfect, you always need to use your own professional judgment, but they all serve as a reliable starting point.

If you know of any other useful websites, please let me know.

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