Part 3 of my series on Digital Literacy
Now, let’s apply the principles of website evaluation that I discussed last time: C-Currency, R-Relevance, A-Authority, A-Accuracy, P-Purpose.
Suppose you are doing research on nanotechnology in medicine and find the website for RYT Hospital – Dwayne Medical Center. At first glance, it looks like a good choice. It’s a hospital site and looks professionally done. But let’s dig a little deeper.
Is it Current? The URL showing in the browser includes the date 2011. But when we scroll to the bottom of the page, the copyright notice does not have date:
That’s unusual and makes it difficult to determine when this site was last updated. Nanotechnology in medicine is a cutting-edge field. So Currency is an important criterion for our project.
Is the site Relevant? For a research paper, information from a hospital should be relevant. However, when I try to access information on Nanotechnology through the Patient Care section, the information is pretty general with no statistics or references to research to back up the site’s claims about their so-called NanoDocs. So for relevance, this sites gets a cautious “Maybe.”
When we examine the site’s Authority, we encounter some serious concerns. The home page boasts that the “Innovative Healthcare Awards” calls this one of the finest hospitals in the U.S.
That looks impressive. But what exactly are the Innovation in Healthcare Awards. I’ve never heard of them. It’s a good idea to check that out. A quick search in Google turns up multiple awards for innovation in health care, but none with this exact title. Could this be an invented award to lend the appearance of credibility to the site?
Let’s dig a bit further by checking the “About Us” page. Here we find a patient testimonial, a general description of the Hospital and a listing of their “Latest Miracles of Modern Medicine.” But there is no contact information. Where is this hospital? How can you get care if they don’t even give you a phone number or address? If you weren’t already suspicious, alarm bells should certainly be starting to ring now.
If you’re still not certain about this site, the next thing to examine is Accuracy. Is the information posted on this website confirmed anywhere else? If you can’t verify it somewhere else, don’t use it! Also, beware terms like “medical miracles” that carry emotional overtones.
Finally, what’s the Purpose of this site? If it is to provide information about these procedures, there isn’t very much information available. If it is to convince patients to use their services, it fails completely. If you can’t contact the hospital, how can you get medical care there?
As you’ve probably guessed by now, this site is a fake. There is no RYT Hospital. The site was created by an artist and web designer named Virgil Wong. On the artist’s own website, the RYT site is described as a gallery with interactive projects.
While I have discussed evaluating websites from a research point of view, the critical thinking skills I describe are also useful for looking closer at that latest great deal a friend recommended on Facebook or in an email. Anyone with moderate skill can build a site that appears convincing. It is all too easy to copy a logo from a reputable company and paste it on your own site. It’s not legal, but if it’s a scam, what they’re doing is already illegal. The moral of the story is to think carefully about what you encounter on the Internet. And maybe a future post will explore more everyday applications of these digital literacy skills.