Sunday, April 22, 2007

Research and Dot-Orgs

The dot-org (.org) Internet domain registration is “recommended for” the websites of non-profit, non-governmental organizations. However, there are currently no restrictions or requirements for registration. With this in mind, it is necessary to look at the information provided by .orgs just as carefully as you would a .com, especially since .orgs provide research data to uphold their claims.

Many .orgs use funds to conduct research in support the point of a view they are promoting. Knowing the source of the study and who funded it, and being able to look at the actual study and not just the particular “spin” the .org is using will help you discern the validity of the research and the accuracy of the claims being made on the web site.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Who funded the study?
  • Who conducted the research?
  • Who interpreted the results?
  • What interest do the funders have in the results of the test?
  • Were the researchers in any way affiliated with an industry with a conflict of interest?

And finally…

  • Where does the .org itself (presumably a non-profit, non-governmental organization) get the lion’s share of their funding?
A recent question came in: “Some of [the American Dietetic Association]’s recommendations are sound. But the fact is... everything they publish must be carefully read for bias. Who has time for that?”
The answer: You have to make the time! Kudos for the observation that every individual claim should be checked out, even if a .org might have published excellent information in the past.

*Conflict of interest. A person has a conflict of interest when the person is in a position of trust which requires her to exercise judgment on behalf of others (people, institutions, etc.) and also has interests or obligations of the sort that might interfere with the exercise of her judgment, and which the person is morally required to either avoid or openly acknowledge. (University of Nebraska Medical Center ethics glossary.)