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Health Knowledge in the Information Age

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"You can't turn the wheel of time," an old saying goes

"You can't turn the wheel of time," an old saying goes. Another refers to the "good old days," which in my opinion, only exist in the minds of people with poor memories. One must really be blind not to see all the advances in modern society.

"Though we are always talking about an "information overload," the information in reality is only a data overload: the amount of thoroughly informed people is actually rather small."

Think, for instance, of our improved transportation technology, which allows us not only to travel by car or train from city to city, but by plane from continent to continent within hours and by space shuttle around the world in minutes. Old-age security is an immense achievement in our society. So are the advancements in treatment of disease.

But when I asked my niece Eva, who is 30 years younger than I and a typical generation X'er, she could not think of many positive advances in modern society. She cited growing unrest throughout the world, deteriorating social structures, growing unemployment, political corruption and instability and, worst of all, the war against terrorism. The ecology and our environment suffers from industrial over-development; world hunger and poverty is nothing to be proud of; and besides, huge multinational companies are overtaking world economics and it looks like we will have only poor and super-rich in the future.

"Come on, there must be something that you would consider real advancement, something that affects you in a positive way," I said. Beaming, she exclaimed that communication technology has contributed immensely to the flow of information for education an entertainment purposes.

What would the world be without digital transmission of video, telecommunications and computer information technology? Everyone benefits from cheaper phone rates and the World Wide Web. People now spend more time with their computer than watching TV, Eva estimates, though watching good home movies on her VCR fascinates her more than anything else. However, she says, if you need to know anything about any subject, the best way to find it is to hit the information highway on the Web.

Though we are always talking about an "information overload," the information in reality is only a data overload: the number of thoroughly informed people is actually rather small. The World Economic Forum estimates there is a so-called group of "information elitists" of only 100,000 worldwide. All others are notably underinformed, often posing as knowing it all, but receiving only fractionated news or even wrong information. How can we know what good and bad information is? There's so much of it.

In the field of health, nutrition and alternative medicine, much of what is disseminated on the Web are clinical studies with statistics that often do not provide the answers people are looking for. Most often I find the information too vague and not offering enough practical help to make healthy decisions.

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