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Evaluating Health Information

How to read and evaluate medical information (even if you're not a scientist)

Use S.I.F.T. for DIY Fact-Checking

S I F T stands forDIY Fact-Checking - use the SIFT method:

  • Stop to check
  • Investigate & Interrogate
  • Find other, trusted, sources on the same topic
  • Trace back to the original report or research study 

- what does that source actually say? 

- interrogate with the Trust it? or Trash it? tool



Look for the original study or research

Find the Source for the Research Behind That News Story

If the health information is based on a medical research study, don't just stop with a third-hand news report. Does the news report give readers a link to the original research paper? Or enough details that you can find the original easily? (If not, TRASH it.)

Skim the original to see if it matches the news story. (For more details on how to do that, see the next webpage in this guide, Deciphering Medical Research.)

Search Sideways to Find Other Points of View

If you're still not sure whether to TRUST or TRASH that news story based on recent research, even after scanning over the original source of the information,  search laterally. Do another web search with key words or phrases (like author name, name of the study, the condition studied) to see if you can find other versions of the story, reviews, or commentary - or an idea of what else the researchers have worked on. Oftentimes that will give additional clues for DIY fact checking.

Interrogate Health Information - Trust it? or Trash it?

Can you find answers to these questions?

Think of each set of questions below as giving a +1 (TRUST) or -1 (TRASH) rating for the information. After going through these questions, add up those numbers to get an overall trustworthiness score.

When was it written?

  • No date listed? vote to TRASH it.
  • Recent date? vote to TRUST it.
  • if it seems out of date based on what you see elsewhere or already know, consider TRASHing it.

Who wrote it?

  • If you don't know who wrote it, or can't find an author or sponsoring organization listed: vote to TRASH it.
  • If the author(s) are listed but don't work as a health professional: consider TRASHing it. (If the author is a journalist with a science background, consider TRUSTing it.)
  • If the author(s) are listed and have a medical research position: consider TRUSTing it.
  • If no author is listed but the sponsoring organization is well-known or well-respected and is a .edu, .org, or .gov website: consider TRUSTing it.

What is the source of the medical or scientific facts supporting this information?

  • No facts are given, but just personal experience or opinion: vote to TRASH it. (Personal experiences or opinions are not necessarily wrong, but they're not fact.)
  • Facts are from a scientific research study: consider TRUSTing it.
  • Several scientific studies are discussed, from different research projects or authors: vote to TRUST it.
  • If it rests solely on one study or one person's work: consider TRASHing it. (If that study or person has been discredited by more than one source: TRASH it right away.)

Who paid for it?

  • If the funding or sponsoring group is a government agency, NGO, or academic department : vote to TRUST it.
  • If the sponsoring organization is well-known and well-respected, and doesn't try to sell a product or point of view: vote to TRUST it.
  • If the information comes from a news source or the author is a journalist: LOOK for additional information before deciding. (Does it link to an original research study?)
  • If the author or sponsoring organization is trying to sell something or would make a profit from you believing in that information: vote to TRASH it.

Do other sources confirm this information?

  • If the information matches what you've found in other trustworthy sources (not by the same author!): vote to TRUST it.
  • If there are no other sources with the same information and it seems to be too good to be true: vote to TRASH it.

Source: Based on the Trust It or Trash It toolkit produced by the Access To Credible Genetics Resource Network cooperative, whose lead organization is the Genetic Alliance. Made available under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Think critically!

The Trust it? or Trash it? sequence is also available as an interactive quiz online, to help you hone your critical thinking skills (also available in Spanish).

Or check out one or more of these other useful sets of questions to ask:

The text on this page is copyright PlaneTree Health Library, licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 4.0. Linked contents are the responsibility of their creators or copyright holders.