Thursday, September 01, 2016

What's in a name?

You have waited a long time for this post, I notice!   I am sure you have had plenty to do while waiting.

In their article Chronic renal confusion, Chi-yuan Hsu and Glenn Chertow looked at the wide variety of terms used to describe the same level of kidney function, and the wide range of renal function described by the use of a term like "chronic renal failure".   They examined a sample of literature to reach their conclusions (1).

They argue that some terms should be dropped - a term like "chronic renal failure" has negative connotations for patients, and a term like "pre-dialysis" might discourage practitioners from attempting other sorts of treatment.   They argue for the use of "chronic renal insufficiency" instead. 

I am not sure people have been listening in the intervening 15 years!    Maybe it is too big an "ask".  There are still lots of terms for the same thing, and people do use terms interchangeably (their example is "chronic renal failure" and "end stage renal disease").

Their article shows two things:

1.  The wide variety of terms used to describe the same thing demonstrates why you need to include synonyms in a search.  This is particularly important if you are doing a systematic review, or other sort of systematic search.  You must try to use all the terms that authors might have used, however odd that usage might be.
2. It is important to review your search results, to remove those where the authors' definition of that condition does not match yours.   There is not a lot you can do in the search strategy to deal with this.

I think point 2 is the responsibility of the requestor of the search, or the reviewer of the results, and not the information specialist/librarian.

Point 1 is definitely the responsibility of the searcher, so often, the librarian, with help from the requestor or reviewers.

As an example, I devised a search strategy for chronic kidney disease, which is on the UHL Clinical Librarian Blog.

(1) Hsu CY, Chertow GM. Chronic renal confusion: insufficiency, failure, dysfunction, or disease. Am J Kidney Dis. 2000;36(2):415-8

Monday, February 15, 2016

Appraising information in a language not your own

I was looking for information in Portuguese or Spanish about the Zika virus. 

I had shared the National Library of Medicine's page of resources on the lis-medical discussion list, and had a response from  Neil Pakenham-Walsh of the splendid HIFA2015 group to say there were few items in Portuguese or Spanish, the languages of the areas most affected. HIFA have a Portuguese discussion group and they had been discussing it. 


According to the WHO's ePortuguese project,  Portuguese is the sixth most spoken language in the world and the most widely spoken in the Southern Hemisphere, but is not an official UN language, so there is often a lack of information in it.


So I started to look and ask around.  I have included my findings into the March Internet sites of interest column for the Health Libraries Group Newsletter, sent last week to the editor.


I got some useful sites from colleagues on the EAHIL discussion list, many of whom are course in Portugal or Spain.


But I also googled it. found some material in English (well cited or linked to, I imagine, and the virus has the same name in both languages), but of course some things in Portuguese, which was the point.  But I don't speak Portuguese, so now would I know which sites to trust?


Actually it is an interesting question how much I can check the information in medical websites in English for accuracy, given that I am not a medic, but I certainly can't do it for Portuguese language sites!


 But I can check: 
  • the date it was last changed;
  • the scope of the information - what aspects of the subject does it cover? With this example, at this time, does it give advice for travellers or pregnant women?;
  • who writes or edits the information and their qualifications;
  • the references and links, and how up to date they are. Are there any?  What are they?  News items, official information, or peer reviewed articles? Are there links to the latest research about, say, Zika and microcephaly?
  • whose site it is.  A Brazilian site had .gov in the URL.  One from Portugal did not, but an inspection revealed it was a government ministry.  It was subsequently mentioned to me by another EAHIL member, which confirmed my thought about it. 
  • what sort of site it is - this assumes that a popular news site will look as I expect it, but could there be clues in layout, presence of advertisements, and perhaps the topics of other stories that appear?  Are those stories world news, celebrity stories, or all health or science related?
 Is it possible to be satisfied with all these things, and still end up with inaccurate information?  Is this actually much different from what you do to evaluate information in your own language(s)?
There might be a cultural aspect too.  In theory I could write an information sheet in another language, but I would not have knowledge of that culture and might produce something unhelpful or inappropriate.  Information from a country where the language is a first or major language, or from a global concern like the WHO should be a good starting point.
Then there is Google Translate, which offers its services if you use Chrome to read a page in a  language not your default.  That is a topic best saved for another post!