Although the media have sounded the alarm about official-looking Web sites that offer unreliable medical information before, their potential for mischief had always been an abstraction to me. After all, who wouldn’t pick Mayo Clinic’s or WebMD’s link out of search results first before surfing to an unknown source? That complacency came to an abrupt end when, in the space of a few days, two different members of an ODD parents’ support forum posted links to articles on ODD from very well-produced Web sites purporting to offer expert advice on their subjects.
What both sites had in common is that they claimed ODD is a purely behavioral issue caused by bad parenting and environment. Since the members of this ODD parents’ support forum had just counseled a woman who arrived coming to terms with her realization that her son had a problem and, in her own terms, in tears over repeated assertions about environmental influences and parenting technique as causes of ODD (see my first post, Haunted by the Ghost of Bettelheim, http://wp.me/p65FRS-5) in Web pages she read, this hit home, and hard. Both sites are, in fact, compilations of information meant to draw in people searching for information. The companies owning them then use the pages to sell advertising on them to sellers of related products. The information on the pages isn’t necessarily false, but there’s no guarantee that the compilers had any medical or technical background to guide them in choosing sources. And even reputable sites contain material about ODD that is biased or outdated, reflecting the lack of consensus in the professional community about how the condition should be regarded.
I posted a comment to both sites, but the original poster deleted the link to the first one in the wake of my pointing out its dubious origins. The second site has the reassuring-sounding name, minddisorders.com. It is not authored by a hospital, research institute, university, or medical practice, however. A company called Advameg runs it, and here is its own description from the corporate Web site: Advameg, Inc. is a fast-growing Illinois based company founded in 2000 by the company’s current president, Lech Mazur. With a portfolio of over 50 sites, our network sees over 20 million monthly unique visitors. Our sites are frequently referenced by media outlets, including CNBC, CNN, The New York Times, Fox News, The Atlantic and The New Yorker. By analyzing information from a variety of reputable sources, we are able to provide our users with accurate, high-quality and easily understandable information. Visitors are able to freely access our materials and find information on a wide range of topics, including science, history, health, business and much more.
Advameg initially put a warning pop-up about the site’s content on the page after I protested in the site’s comments. It then reinstated the original page and removed my comments. I made a new comment, which it will no doubt remove. There’s little point to expending much more energy on it given that there are probably dozens of similar sites with their own misinformation.
So, how can a reader tell whether a site is legitimate? Job one, look at who owns the site. Is it
the Mayo Clinic? Johns Hopkins? NIH? Those are all well-known authorities on medicine. Next, look at the URL in the browser’s address field. Does it reflect the name of the entity whose name is shown as owning the page, and is the address in the .org, .edu, or .gov domain? Most non-commercial entities like research institutes or universities will have their sites in those domains, and is it necessary to say that if a page that presents itself as being owned by a prestigious research institution has a URL like
“coolmedsitez.com”, it is probably not what it claims to be? Next, look for an “About” link that will tell you about the owner of the page. If that or a similar link isn’t there or doesn’t contain meaningful information, for example, detailing its mission and listing departments or other information you would expect to see about a major health institution, then the reader should be wary.
Obtaining reliable information on ODD can be frustrating and demoralizing for parents and care takers. Predatory companies that take advantage of parents seeking information to sell products, especially untested and unproven ones like the homeopathic nostrum offered on the Advameg ODD site, can’t be stopped legally from operating as they do. Everyone needs to use discernment in trusting which Internet sources to trust, but those of us seeking information to help our children have a special need for caution.
For your review and not for your information: