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!

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