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Educators from Carolina Friends School in Durham explore the relationship between health and education. 

CAROLINA FRIENDS SCHOOL is an independent Quaker school serving students 3-18. Contact the school at:

4809 Friends School Road
Durham, NC 27705
Telephone: ( 919) 383-6602

Ruffin Powell joined CFS as the Middle School/Upper School Librarian in 2018. She has been a Middle and Upper School librarian since 2002. A Nashville, Tennessee native, she earned her B.A. in English at the College of William and Mary and her M.S. in Library Science at UNC-Chapel Hill. After teaching at Culbreth Middle School for four years, she moved north to Rhode Island, and served as Upper School Librarian at Moses Brown, a Quaker school in Providence, for 10 years. Ruffin's omnivorous curiosity and wonder lead her to many interests, including reading and writing, running, biking, swimming and doing yoga, knitting, cooking and gardening

Good Habits for Internet Health Research

By Ruffin Powell, Carolina Friends School Librarian

When looking for information, especially health information, everyone has to ask critical—even skeptical!—questions about sources. This is equally true whether you have a question about your own health or that of a child in your care. Information sources on-line might have their own goals foremost in their minds, not your own best interests.

Ruffin Powell

Health information abounds on the Internet, and only some sources are worthy of our trust. Asking questions about the source itself (not just the topic) increases the likelihood of finding helpful information. Begin with these three essential questions:

  • What is the purpose purpose of this article?
  • How does this information compare to information from other sources?
  • How does this article make you feel?

Assessing a Source

Trust information sources whose whole purpose is to provide scientifically-backed information. You may have to dig into the “About” page or even run a search about the organization. For instance, when a site’s funding comes from a pharmaceutical company, they are more likely to suggest specific drugs or aggressive treatment plans. I recently put the symptoms of a common head cold into a popular website funded by drug companies, and it recommended I see my doctor for a prescription!
I always advise students that three is the magic number of sources. Do the three sources give mostly the same information? If one is an outlier, it will become apparent quickly. If those sources give their own list of references, so much the better.

Emotional Impact

Some articles are written to ramp up strong feelings and dampen our critical thinking skills. If you are already afraid that certain symptoms point to a more severe health problem, and the information source plays on that fear, you are not being well served. Be alert and rely less on that source.

Carolina Friends School students get an early start in learning how to navigate the Internet safely and successfully.

Authority, Date and Scope

When we are ready to dig deeper, I teach high school students to look at the authority, date, and scope of an article.

Is the author of this article an authority by training or education? Authors who have medical degrees or commonly write scientific and health articles are the cream of the crop. You can search the author’s first and last name to find out more about them.

How recent is this article? Health information has a short shelf life, more like a yogurt’s than a Twinkie’s expiration date. I look for sources within the last five years. If you can’t find a date of publication at the top or the bottom of a source, that is a red flag!

Articles that are brief in scope are great places to start as they give a quick overview, usually with simple language. More detailed sources are excellent places to go next, building on that foundation of knowledge.

I typically start with Mayo Clinic, then check the CDC. The public library has a wealth of digital information I can access on-line with my public library card. I never hesitate to call the public library for help from a trained librarian. Asking questions of information sources will give you better information which will empower you to make better health choices.