Evaluation of Chemistry Web Sites

Essay by SatRatHigh School, 12th gradeA, April 2009

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Developing a well written research paper requires the use of reliable sources. In the past, prior to the internet, this was easy because research was normally conducted at libraries using books and periodicals that were copyrighted so reliability was usually not a concern. Now that we have the internet and virtually anyone can post information to it we have to question the validity of the source and the reliability of the information. Fortunately experts in the fields have recognized this and developed criteria to evaluate websites. Chemistry is an exact science where misinformation can have disastrous results. Utilizing “The Virtual Chase’s” website evaluation criteria I evaluated an online chemistry site for quality of information.

The website “The Virtual Chase” believes “Researchers should evaluate the quality of information appearing online or in print based on five criteria—scope of coverage, authority, objectivity, accuracy and timeliness” (The Virtual Chase, 2001). Scope of coverage refers to the extent to which a source explores a topic.

Authority refers to the expertise or recognized official status of a source. Objectivity is the bias or opinion expressed when a writer interprets or analyzes facts. Accuracy describes information that is factually irrefutable and complete. Timeliness refers to information that is current at the time of publication (The Virtual Chase, 2001). This website offers a checklist that is very useful in determining if the site being evaluated is creditable. Within the checklist are links to other sites that demonstrate or instruct the user on how to perform a function that they are unfamiliar with. Because this site was written to teach legal professionals how to do research it is very thorough in its evaluation of a website.

When applying the evaluation criteria of “The Virtual Chase” checklist to a chemistry website a user can feel confident that the information will be reliable. I used the checklist to test the PubChem Compound website to see if it met the reliability standard. The PubChem site was a link from a larger site that was run by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), which is a division of the National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health. NCBI was established in 1988 as a national resource for molecular biology information and creates public databases. These credentials cover the Authority criteria well enough I believe. As for scope the PubChem Compound site contains more than 19 million unique structures. Objectivity really doesn’t come into play for this type of website because it deals with real substances. All information that is submitted to PubChem goes through a series of validation steps to ensure the accuracy of the substance or information before it is entered into the database. Because the database is constantly changing the timeliness of the information is always current.

The PubChem website provides information that is designed more for the researching chemist or biologist than for the Intro to Chemistry Student. The site is not without its benefits for the beginning chemistry student though, a search for a compound provides molecular weight, molecular formula, and modeling so you have a visual of the bonding properties of the elements. With use and practice much more information can be accessed from this site and the linked sites as well.

I have utilized the internet in the past to search for information on various topics both for research papers and for general knowledge purposes. In the past I assumed the information I was getting from the sites was correct simply because “it was on the internet”. I recently read an article about a research project that took place at John’s Hopkins University where hexamethonium was given to Asthmatic patients. One of the subjects died and from the ensuing investigation it was determined that the chemical’s danger could easily have been found in the published literature. Unfortunately the researcher was not thorough enough in his search of the drugs adverse effects and focused on a limited number of resources. His limited knowledge of the use of the internet caused a woman her life. The article was written to promote the importance of librarians, in particular medical research librarians, but the message that I understood from the article is that the internet is a wealth of knowledge if used correctly. All internet sites are not created equally and if the information is not looked at with a critical eye the end user can find themselves in a very embarrassing situation.

ReferencesAlbin O. Kuhn Library & Gallery, http://aok.lib.umbc.edu/research/evaluate.php#SpecialNational Center of Biotechnology Information, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/Ballard, Spahr, Andrews & Ingersoll, LLP, The Virtual Chase, http://www.virtualchase.com/quality/index.html