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I came upon a statistic which showed that in the December of 2013, Google garnered a 67.3% share of search engine queries, while Bing (18.2%) and Yahoo (10.8%) trailed considerably. My favorite search engine, Google Scholar, did not make the list. Google has proven itself as a favorite means to access information of all sorts in a very quick manner. What is missing? Reliable sources of information are scattered randomly among less than reliable sources. For some uses, such as shopping for a “self cleaning cat litter box” or to “find your daily horoscope”, Google meets the need perfectly.

(Did you notice that I put each search in quotation marks? Doing this will narrow your search. For instance, if I type self cleaning litter box without the quotations marks, I get 414,000 hits. As long as the four words are found anywhere on the website/page, Google will give you this page as a result. Narrowing the search by placing quotation marks around the four words lessens your hits to 156,000, as Google will only display pages/websites where those four words appear in the order that you bunched them inside the quotation marks. Use this feature to narrow your options and improve accuracy.)

If scientifically reliable information is needed, however, Google is often not the place to start. Let me give you an example and please do not take offense to my choice here. We all know that there are modalities within our professions that lack full scientific validation. Ionic foot baths have become quite popular, supposedly for removing toxins from the body simply by placing your feet in the product and turning it on for a set time period. Search “ionic foot bath” on Google and you get 1,530,000 hits. Click the link yourself to read the hits. They range from websites where you can buy one of these products, to websites talking about the benefits of the product, and finally to websites telling you how worthless they are. You can read and decide for yourself, or can you? How do you weed out the sales pitches made to sound scientific? This is where Google Scholar comes in. Google Scholar is a subset of Google. Wikipedia describes Google Scholar this way:

Google Scholar is a freely accessible web search engine that indexes the full text of scholarly literature across an array of publishing formats and disciplines. Released in beta in November 2004, the Google Scholar index includes most peer-reviewed online journals of Europe and America’s largest scholarly publishers, plus scholarly books and other non-peer reviewed journals. It is similar in function to the freely available Scirus from Elsevier, CiteSeerX, and getCITED. It is also similar to the subscription-based tools, Elsevier’s Scopus and Thomson ISI‘s Web of Science. Its advertising slogan – “Stand on the shoulders of giants” – is taken from a quote by Isaac Newton and is a nod to the scholars who have contributed to their fields over the centuries, providing the foundation for new intellectual achievements.

Let’s repeat our search for “ionic foot bath” on Google Scholar and, if patents are excluded, you will get exactly eight hits. Eight. Google Scholar is not perfect, it does report on citations in books where the search terms are found and four of the eight citations are from books, where it is impossible to determine if fully objective information is presented. Of the four remaining hits, two are from class notes from a college class on learning the scientific method, which actually debunks the foot baths, another hit debunks the myth of the ionic foot bath’s ability to clear toxins, and the final hit is an abstract from the International Journal of Social Psychiatry, and the ionic foot bath is not mentioned in the abstract so one can not determine if any validation of the ionic foot bath’s efficacy is presented. It took me only a few minutes to show to myself that little scientific proof has been published by credible sources showing that ionic foot baths work as they say they do. If one relied only on Google, I doubt if one could ever get the full picture.

(Note: PubMed is another excellent search tool that even further narrows the range of search results. I have often found it to be a bit more prickly to use, but many people rely on PubMed for accurate, reliable information.)

Our patients frequently come to us with information obtained from Google, or similar sources, much of which is often dangerously wrong. But how is the average person supposed to know? One by one, we can share the news. Google is fine when shopping for litter boxes or finding your horoscope, but if they are trying to find reliable, credible information regarding their health, steer them to Google Scholar.

For Now,

Walt Fritz, PT

Foundations in Myofascial Release Seminars

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Comment by Annemarie K on December 8, 2014 at 2:02pm

I have found Google Scholar to be very useful because in some cases it allows you to get access to the entire article for free as pdf or webpage.  Pubmed does not offer this option.  Google scholar was recommended to me by the teacher of a pediatric massage course, and I have found it to be more useful than pubmed for some things, although it is also less complete than pubmed on occasion.  It probably did not make the list you mentioned since there are not that many people looking for scientific research studies, and most of them, like myself, only know about pubmed.  Perhaps in a few more years it will make those lists.


Comment by Walt Fritz, PT on March 12, 2014 at 8:26am

Thank you, Neal. A number of other credible research sites/search engines were posted as responses on my actual blog post:

Comment by Neal Lyons on March 11, 2014 at 9:33pm

Good suggestion Walt. We are fortunate to be in the health care industry, where we also have sources like Web MD which, in spite of being a user generated content platform, still attracts credible contributions from vetted medical professionals. I agree that Google is not the best resource

Comment by Walt Fritz, PT on March 9, 2014 at 6:51am
My pleasure, Gordon.
Comment by Gordon J. Wallis on March 8, 2014 at 11:18pm

Hmm, I guess I've been dumb about search engines.  Thanks for the info.  Google Scholar is going to be good for me.

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