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Searching, appraising and citing
Environmental and Occupational Health
Information on the Internet


Contents:

Introduction

Searching peer-reviewed literature

Searching vetted sites

Search engines

Critical appraisal

Citation

 

 Introduction

    You must appreciate that if you had a specific query pertaining to occupational or environmental health or medicine and merely walked to the nearest newsagent, or even general bookshop, the chances of finding something specific, valid and detailed enough for your purposes would be quite remote. The same applies to the Internet - just like newspapers and magazines etc. it contains a lot of material which is irrelevant to your needs, poorly researched or written, and sometimes downright rubbish or advertising. You will need to learn how to use it sparingly and to best advantage. This page is made available to help you search, appraise and cite occupational and environmental health and medicine information through the internet.
  • Before pursuing this exercise it is important that you have achieved an adequate mastery of literature searching and critical appraisal for scientific literature, using the library for your source, and conventional critical appraisal approaches. (The Internet if used correctly may be a supplement, but not a substitute). Therefore if you have a literature review assignment or other similar task, you should try to follow the discipline of not starting by using the Internet - use conventional methods first, unless otherwise stated. Later allocate perhaps a fraction of your time to using the Internet.
    •  

     Searching peer-reviewed literature

      If the output of your search is intended to have any scientific credibility, then it must primarily be based on the critical appraisal of peer-reviewed medical or other scientific literature. It bears to repeat what has been said above, namely that the classical approach of searching for peer-reviewed information is still paramount. 

      You can engage in free searching of a range of medical databases through PubMed  (besides the ones available on subscription). 

       

     Searching vetted sites

      Rather than searching the internet indiscriminately, as mentioned below, you might have a smaller and more specific, and better validated search result by using those tools which include only pages which have been vetted in some way. However you could miss out on some useful information. 

      You can start off by using a directory, or better still a meta-directory and follow the leads. As a start, one has been provided for you. However the contents of directories can be very biased towards the interest of the people looking after them, their available time and resource, and perhaps also by the extent to which authors attempt to have their pages linked to the directory. 

       

     Search engines 

      You can find a very large number of 'pages' if you use a fast comprehensive tool such as Yahoo or Google; better still for scientific articles you can search Google Scholar. [Remember to press the 'back' button on your browser if you want to return to this page]. You can find other search engines here

      Generally speaking you can conduct searches in various ways: you can generate huge lists of pages from the indiscriminate use of keywords and then 'surf' aimlessly from A toB to C to D and so on and hope that you slowly find a "hot" trail that will lead to what you are after. This is not a very productive approach. 

      You can conduct more focussed searches, using more specific key words which are less likely to lead you to vast numbers of pages which are impossible to pursue. You can improve on these by better selection of key words, and of the Boolean operators: AND, OR, NOT. In some search engines which operate like this search tool  where + (plus) and - (minus) signs are used to achieve similar ends. Thus if you include a larger number of keywords but expecting them all to be present in the pages that you find (i.e. by linking them with the conjunctive AND, or alternatively by preceding them with +, as the case may be) you will find a lesser number of more focussed pages - hopefully specific to your requirements. 

       

     Critical appraisal

    This is even more difficult than the search itself. The following are some very rough guides, which must be interpreted cautiously: 
       
    • Apply the basic principles of critical appraisal as far as you can: Unfortunately you will find that in many instances the information on the Internet is not detailed enough to permit you to do so. You should be very cautious in accepting the validity of information that is not detailed and explicit enough to fulfil these principles. 

 

    • The clear identification and affiliation of the author may be of help. However one should not assume that if something is coming from an academic institution it is necessarily beyond reproach, nor that if it is originates from a commercial organisation, that it is necessarily seriously biased. Academic bodies have their own vested interests as well! Some personal home pages may include or lead to useful resources but others are simply a reflection of the agendas, beliefs and prejudices of their author, often at best unreliable or at worst fraudulent. 

 

    • If the work replicates and summarises material that is already in the public domain and peer reviewed in a written form, this may also provide some reassurance, especially if you can then go to the original and carry out a critical appraisal
      If the page has been through some form of internet peer review, this may help but the quality of the review is not often explicit. A number of organisations such as Health on the Net are engaged in projects to establish quality criteria for WWW resources, and thence to provide a gateway only to those information sources which achieve and maintain such standards. 

       

    • Evidence of plagiarism does not do much credit to a site.  It is associated with poor quality in many respects.

    • Sadly some web sites are nothing more than a collage of material copied from other sites (including this one) without either seeking permission or providing due credit and attribution.

      The World Wide Web affords a wide range of technologies which can be adapted for what are arguably technical variants of plagiarism. For example it is possible to create a 'frame' with a border of zero thickness. In other words the URL at the top relates to the site that has developed the frame (a few lines of 'html' commands), while for the content the browser contains material from another website. People viewing this might easily be misled into thinking that the content is part of the work of the website whose URL features at the top of their browser. Whereas in fact it has all been essentially swallowed from another site without appropriate attribution. A few websites (to which no links are being provided) have done this using resources from this 'Health, Environment and Work' web resource available from the agius.com domain. 


      This explains why a distinctive style with a background is used on this website. 
       

     Citation

    When you include URLs in a bibliography or list of references, it is very important that others can establish clearly the necessary  basic information to determine the content, and likely quality including timeliness of the URLs.
    You should therefore at the very least:, specify:
    • author,
    • title
    • date of wrtitng or of last stated amendment of the WWW page,
    • as well as the URL and the date on which you accessed it.
    Students are often uncertain as to how references found on the World Wide Web should be cited.  There are a number of sources providing further more detailed information on this important issue, including: