Thursday, December 6, 2007

Information Literacy

A recent letter in the Journal of the American Medical Association provides preliminary results from a brief survey of YouTube videos containing information about immunizations. About half of the videos surveyed were unsupportive of immunizations, and many of these contained inaccurate information. This recent preliminary survey is indicative of an increasing trend of amateur videos presenting health information on the internet. While these videos can be very creative and helpful in disseminating public health messages, they may also spread false or inaccurate information about health practices.

In societies where information is so easily published without the traditional (though certainly not infallible) checks or balances of editors and publishing houses, schools have a vital new responsibility to ensure students master "information literacy," that is, knowing not only how to locate information, but how to evaluate its quality and check its accuracy. Evaluating sources for bias and expertise as well as being able to triangulate information are fast becoming vital skills, not just for academics and researchers, but for anyone who has access to vast quantities of undifferentiated information. In our "digital age," facility of transfer of ideas is a great potential asset, and a great potential peril. As such, schools in internet-capable societies cannot neglect their new responsibility to acclimate their charges to capitalize this new asset and avoid its risks.

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