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How to Look Up Health Information Online
Without Going Crazy
Last updated by Katherine Falk 2/4/2014

When it comes to anything health-related on the Internet, conflicting and unreliable
information and opinions are rife. This guide is intended to help you find your way to the useful
Health libraries in the Bay Area
The best place to start your online search may actually be in
a bricks-and-mortar library building! The following are healthfocused libraries in the Bay Area open to the general public.
Can’t physically make it to one of them? Your local library
may have access to many health-related journals.Your friendly
reference librarian will be able to help direct you.
● Ashby Health Sciences Library
2450 Ashby Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705
Phone: (510) 204-1696
● PlaneTree Health Information Center at the Cupertino Library
● Samuel Merritt University Library
400 Hawthorne Ave, Oakland, CA 94609
● Stanford Health Library
(510) 869-8900
● UCSF Medical Library
Multiple locations in San Francisco
How to research health topics online
● This is a complex and tricky area to navigate, but
diligence can pay off — and good research techniques can
be applied to all kinds of information on the Internet, not
just health. I highly recommend checking out http://www. and http://www.verificationhandbook.
com. Meantime, here are a few pointers.
● Who is the author? Who is the publisher? Do they have
an editorial board? An ombudsman?
● Is the article you’re reading a summary or repost of an
article elsewhere?
● Is the article presenting the facts in a neutral tone?
“Information should be presented in a clear, factual
manner. It should be non-biased and capable of being
verified from a primary information source, such as
scientific studies, peer-reviewed professional literature.”

● Does the author disclose any potential conflicts of
● Is the website sponsored by a company?
● Does the health information site you’re reading sell items
like books or health supplements? Be alert for potential
conflicts of interest. Many reputable scientific publishers
do sell books and journals, but pharmaceutical items
should be a red flag.
More health research guidance
● Deciphering Medspeak
● A User’s Guide to Finding and Evaluating Health Information
on the Web
● How to Evaluate Health Information on the Internet
● Berkeley Public Library Health Guide
● Finding Reliable Health Information Online
● Finding and Evaluating Online Resources on Complementary
Health Approaches (from the National Center for
Complementary and Alternative Medicine)
Looking for treatment info?
While you should always talk to your doctor, these two sites
will give you information about current and past treatment
● CenterWatch
Find out what treatment trials are happening in your area.
● Clinical Trials
Find out the results of past trials
Finding reliable medical journals
The good

● What are the author’s credentials/background?

● PubMed:

● If the page has no author listed, where does the website
get its funding? Who is behind the information?

● Web of Science: ask at your local library

The in-between
● Google Scholar (doesn’t restrict search to peer-reviewed
articles — read this guide first:
The bad
● Jeffrey Beall, a research librarian at the University
of Colorado at Denver, has developed a blacklist of
“predatory” journals. It’s a good idea to cross-check
journal articles against this list to make sure that the
publication is reputable:
Retraction Watch
● Scientists are not omnipotent, and even respected
scientific journals get it wrong from time to time. This
website lists instances where a journal has had to retract
a previously published article.
How to read scientific papers and study reports

Fact-checking websites (not exclusively focused on
health topics!)
● Snopes:
● Hoax-Slayer:
● Urban Legends:
Approach with caution
Some websites are about getting “eyeballs” and clicks more
than about providing people with reliable information. Fox
News is not the only one to do this. Many links should be
treated with caution. Go read the source articles that they are
quoting. Take their claims with a generous amount of salt. The
sites I’ve found to be consistently the least impartial are:
● Examiner
● Huffington Post
● InfoWars

● How to Read a Scientific Paper:

● MindBodyGreen

● Case Study: Reading a Primary Research Paper:

● NaturalNews

● A Guide for Non-Scientists:
How to detect false or misleading claims
● Logical Fallacies
● Snake Oil for the 21st Century: Health Claims That Are Too
Good to Be True
● How to Detect B.S.
● Evaluating Information — Applying the CRAAP Test

● RawForBeauty
● Realfarmacy

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