How to Be an Informed Consumer of Online Information


Experts explain how you can separate fads, scams, and myths from real and reliable information when it comes to products, programs, and health care for your children. Learn how to tell if information found online is reliable and supported by scientific evidence.


mom using computerAs your child’s first and strongest advocate, you need to be able to make informed decisions regarding products, programs, interventions, or even health care that potentially affect your child’s spoken and written language development. Below are questions for you to ask yourself as you try to determine what is a fad or scam, what might be a myth, and what is the real deal.


Show Me the Data!

Fads, scams, and myths all share one common theme: They are statements made without much or any scientific evidence. Sometimes it may seem as if a product or procedure has scientific evidence, given the type of description used for, or the statements made about, the product or procedure. However, just like you do for anything else in your child’s life, such as new medicines or new approaches to treating certain illnesses, you want to make sure there is some evidence or data to suggest the product or procedure actually leads to the outcomes you desire.


What is evidence?

Evidence comes in many forms. When we think about evidence, we think about the results of well-designed, well-implemented scientific investigations that have been published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals. When the outcomes of a study are published in a journal after being reviewed by other scientists, it demonstrates that the data are important and worthy of distribution.

The tricky point about relying on scientific evidence is that individuals who promote certain products or procedures may report they have published evidence to back up their statements. They may even attach copies of scientific papers that support their claims on their websites. The catch is that sometimes these papers are not actually journal articles from peer-reviewed journals; instead, they are papers (sometimes called “white papers”) published by the promoters themselves. These can be misleading, often because they look very authentic, impressive, and, in fact, scientific.

So, how does a parent decide whether the paper is truly from a scientific journal or self-published? Look at the first page of the paper. Does it list the name of a journal, a volume number, and the page numbers? If yes, then it likely is a publication from a journal. One quick way to confirm that is to simply put the name of the journal into your Internet search engine and view the outcome. For example, say you read about a new instructional procedure to help improve children’s literacy skills that seems to make sense. The professionals discussing the procedure provide a list of references to back up their statements, and one of the articles discussed is in the journal called, Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools. You could simply put that title into your search engine, and you would find that the first link to come up is this: Further, you would find under the ‘About LSHSS’ section that this is peer-reviewed journal. Voila! You now have more confidence that the evidence the professionals discuss for this procedure is backed by science and thus more trustworthy.


The MART Strategy

Use this strategy to help you become a critical consumer:

M is for Motivation. When you hear an individual presenting a new product or procedure, or read about it via a website, ask yourself: What is the individual’s motivation? Is this person attempting to share new research that points to the use of that particular product or procedure, or is he trying to sell the product solely for personal gain? If it is the latter, you should wonder whether you are buying into a fad or scam.

A is for Activity Level. Ask yourself: Is this person a researcher herself, or part of a research team? And is her research in the same area as this product or procedure? If there is little published literature, is this person at least attempting to collect data to support her claims? These questions help us to make decisions about the product or procedure by determining whether there is a scientific process occurring.

R is for Reputable Resources. Does the person making the claims provide specific sources of information to back up those claims, such as articles in peer-reviewed journals? Sometimes individuals back up their claims via testimonials. Such testimonials are highly at risk of being biased and, frankly, bought.

T is for Theory. Does this product or procedure match how we know children learn language or literacy? Question products or procedures that seem to counter what you know about children’s development.


Beyond Baby Talk

The above article was reprinted with permission from BEYOND BABY TALK: From Speaking to Spelling: A Guide to Language and Literacy Development for Parents and Caregivers Copyright © 2012 by The American Speech-Learning-Hearing Association. Published by Three Rivers Press, a division of Random House, Inc.