Web-Based Veterinary Advice Not Always Accurate

When you seek factual information about equine health topics on the Internet, apply detective skills to analyze how a list of results or a page on the web site answers your information needs.

First administer a quick test to sort the authoritative from the dubious, writes Charlene Strickland in the September edition of The Horse. Even just the web address gives you a clue. Look for the three-letter domain name of edu (education), gov (government), or org (organization). Either of the first two indicates content free of bias you see on many commercial (com) sites. An edu site is a university, so you'd expect a scholarly voice. A gov site can include regulations, and because it's funded with public money, it supplies information to the public. An org site might not be as credible, as most organizations pursue agendas.

Scrutinize content's validity by looking for authorship, "message," currency, and sponsorship. First, are you viewing a lay article or a scientific report? Who is the information provider, and is this person or organization reputable? Are you reading opinions or valid scientific material. An "infomercial" site can communicate valuable information, apart from a subtle or obvious sales message.

Don't accept a single source as the only authority. Check comparable sources, and compare information before you accept what you read.

You also can collect information through chat rooms, news groups, and discussion lists. However, realize that most -- if not all -- of this "talk" falls into the realm of anecdotal information. Even if a source appears legitimate, suspend your belief until you can confirm credentials. It's easy for an online individual to misrepresent his or her qualifications.