To assess the reliability of any Web site, always apply a series of general criteria. The following checkpoints are indicators that can help in determining whether a Web site is questionable or if a publication might be very biased or lack credibility. Consider the following:
1. Internet authorship. Is your information on from the Internet, consider the URL or Uniform Resource Locator – the “address” on the Web. The second part of the URL is called the server name and it gives you a clue to where the information originated and who might be behind the content. The server names generally end with a dot and a three-letter extension that is called the domain. Some of the most common domains are the following:
.com This domain indicates that the Web site is commercial and therefore might have lots of advertizing and biased interests. Use caution here.
.org These sites are non-profit organizations so are therefore generally less biased.
.edu Many academic or educational institutions’ Web sites publish scholarly information that tends to be well researched, reliable and evidence based.
.gov The federal government issues volumes of information through agency Web sites or sites related to major legislation such as the IDEA act. Such as the Centers for Disease Control. These sites are also without advertizing and reliable.
.net These sites publish less than the others and often designate special network providers or internet provider services such as AT & T or Comcast.
2. Appearance. Forget the old saying “don’t judge a book by its cover!” A publication or electronic source with sloppy editing, typos, spelling errors, glaring omissions and an unattractive, unprofessional “look” can be a red flag. At the other extreme, super slick articles with lots of shine and gadgets might also tell you to beware that an abundance of “eye candy” might be the trade off for solid information.
3. Lack of sponsorship or authors. Most Web sites, articles and book chapters will say who is responsible for the content. If there is no organization listed anywhere, and not even the name of an editor or sponsoring organization, stay away. Books and print publications should always indicate who is responsible for the content, and Internet resources should at least have a link to find contact information or that says “contact us.”
4. Date. Even Web sites should say somewhere when the site was last updated, or have a copyright symbol and date: e.g. © 2012. Why is this important? Health related information grows exponentially with constant new advances. Information that is state-of-the art one year may be superseded by more current research and thus obsolete the following year. For health related conditions such as autism, families will want to limit their sources of information to a reasonable period of time and in general impose a time span of perhaps no more than 10 – 15 years at the most at least for non-clinical aspsects of autism such as family dynamics, child abuse, recreation and art therapy. Best clinical information will be no more than 5 years old. Included here would be topics such as medications, health complications, cause and etiology and neurology. If there is no copyright date, look for edition number, last update or any date on the homepage.
5. Authority. In addition to authors’ names or organizational affiliation, if an article, book chapter or Web site lack any references upon which the information is based, there is a lack of authority or credibility. Check to be sure that any assertions or facts have at least some reference of their source.
6. Broken links, advertizing Web sites that are replete with ads are probably biased or at least loyal to a commercial sponsor, and a site that is littered with ads might not only be hiding spyware, but also tends to be very difficult to navigate for finding basic information. If a Web site is filled with broken links or dead links or incomplete or “under construction” notices, the site is likely to be poorly maintained and thus prone to unreliable or inaccurate information. Consumers beware!