Sorting through the digital debris

Christine Anameier

As I sit here sniffling and coughing, I’m thinking, how can I get rid of this cold?

Let’s ask Google!

“How to Cure a Cold” is at The author, ranked as an “Authority,” advises me to inhale a lot of steam and avoid dairy products. Her credentials? “I have an English degree and love to write for fun, but I’ve never made a profit yet!” 

“How to Cure a Common Cold Naturally” also appears on This piece advises me to wash my hands a lot: “Studies show by doing this step once you have a cold will shorten the cold’s duration.” Drink water, drink green tea, rest, exercise (?), cut out sugar, add garlic tablets … Huh. The author’s background? Apparently she’s a freelance writer and certified Pilates instructor.

Another “How to Cure the Common Cold,” anonymously written, counsels me to become an infectious-disease expert and secure a massive research grant. There’s a raging flame war in the comments section, but the article got 2 stars out of 5 in their ratings system … so somebody liked it.

 “Cure for Common Colds” is brought to you by They list the symptoms of the common cold and observe that a cold lasts from 2-7 days “depending upon the virility of the strain.” (Oh my.) They admit, “there is no real fast cure for this condition,” recommend a bunch of OTC meds, and end with a butt-covering admonition to “contact your doctor.”

“How to Get Rid of a Cold Without Using Medications” on says:

  1. Don’t take medications.
  2. “Keep your resting area clean and sanitary.”
  3. Suck on zinc lozenges.
  4. Take regular baths… 



  • recommends hypnosis
  • says “cut all dairy out of your diet”
  • (tagline: “Share your Knowledge, Earn Money”) says to put peroxide on a Q-tip and stick it up my nose
  • provides off-the-cuff remarks from random people with no credentials whatsoever

All is not lost

If I know where to look, there’s reputable, scientifically supported advice out there. Luckily, I’ve heard of the Mayo Clinic (where an actual doctor neatly debunks the anti-dairy angle). I know I can trust WebMD or the Merck Manual. Otherwise, I might be wondering how to tell the reliable information from the opinions of random passersby.

Turn on your BS detector

I’ve started ignoring all search results pointing to and its ilk.

A simple guideline: If the whole idea behind the site is “We know all sorts of stuff about everything,” beware.(Except for Wikipedia, which has enough critical mass to make its own rules much the way Amazon does.)

The content farms have learned to game the system, and dubious content is clogging up the works. If you do internet research and don’t know any better, you can wind up relying on content that’s based on somebody’s vague recollections or urban legends. Come on, Google. Find a way to make expert-written content float to the top. Otherwise, using your search engine will be the equivalent of polling the checkout line at the supermarket.