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Finding Official Information

By David Mendosa

Last Update: October 1, 2001

The good news is that nowadays you can find practically anything you would like to know about diabetes on the Web. In less than a decade the Web has grown from zero to the largest library in the world.

How can you sort out the truth?

The bad news is that it's hard to tell if what you read makes any sense. The information and pseudo-information on the Web includes snake oil and miracle cures, mistakes and lies, and out-of-date data—to say nothing of unfounded opinions and hidden agendas.

How can you sort out the truth? If you have the time and energy, you can apply sophisticated textual analysis of internal and external consistency.

But that's awfully hard to do unless you have a good background on the subject. For most people the best guide is to stick with trusted sources.

You can give your trust to those sites with substantial financial support that have no axe to grind. These are your best bet for solid information. No organization meets these criteria better than the United States Government.

We are now fortunate to have two tools that help us home in on government Web pages about diabetes. Both deserve wider use than they have had to date.

The more narrowly focused of these is probably the better place to start. This is the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services site called Healthfinder. Its motto is "Your guide to reliable health information." Available in either English or Spanish, this site limits itself to publications of the U.S. government and not-for-profit organizations.

When you search Healthfinder for the keyword "diabetes," it returns only 77 documents. Not surprisingly, about a dozen of these documents are on the American Diabetes Association's site, more than any other non-governmental site.

More than 30 links are to the government's lead agency dealing with diabetes The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease (NIDDK) of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. That site has a wealth of information on diabetes, but if you didn't look beyond it to other official resources, you would still be missing a lot.

You can find a much broader selection of government documents by using a special search that the leading search engine offers. If you search Google Search: <Unclesam> for the keyword diabetes, it will return about 90,800 pages. Unlike Healthfinder, Unclesam includes state as well as federal sites. I haven't looked through all 90,800 pages, but it apparently doesn't include any pages from not-for-profit organizations. Nevertheless, it does include about 14,000 government pages that mention the ADA.

By using either Healthfinder or Unclesam to start your search for information about diabetes—or a particular aspect of the disease that you are interested in—you can be confident that what you find is solid data. If it has any bias, it will be toward the conservative, a natural tendency of officials everywhere.

There is yet another little-known bonus from using most government Web sites. Most of the information that you will find there is in the public domain.

The NIDDK site states that unless otherwise stated you can freely reproduce documents and files on the Web sites of the National Institutes of Health. That explains why you will find the same articles on hundreds of commercial sites. 


The American Diabetes Association originally published this article on its Web site as one of my “About the Internet” columns.


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