Dr. Google proves himself somewhat useful

Googling what ails you sounds like a good and empowering idea — until you run into barren fields of Yahoo Answers, swamps of misinformation peddled by charlatans, and orchards of seemingly useful sites that yield only the bitter fruit of tiny bits of information you have already read 5000 times already. But, it turns out that Dr. Google can actually be good for something. At The New York Times, John Markoff reports on a study that found Google search data could be used to discover and track previously unreported side-effects of common medications.


  1. As any fule kno, the trick is not to phrase your search as a question, but to put together a string of words based on the question, that you expect to find in the answer. You might not find Prozac is gonna make you want to kill your partner with an axe (because ‘you looked so peaceful, it made me cross’, apparently. True story bro). But you’ll lose Yahoo answers, so there’s that.

    1.  … was it the person on Prozac who was wielding the axe, or was it the person on Prozac who was offensively peaceful looking?

      Second the advice on phrasing google queries, but it does tend to restrict you to answers that line up with your expectations.

  2. Dextromethorphan cough syrups don’t do a thing for my coughs, but they do seem to give me nosebleeds.  I looked through all the side effects on the very fine print insert in the package, and found nothing about nosebleeds there.

    Then I googled the relevant terms and quickly found a forum for people who like to get high by taking ridiculous doses of over the counter medications.  Apparently nosebleeds become a common side effect when drinking a whole bottle of cough syrup at once.  I just happen to be so sensitive to it that I get nosebleeds when I take the recommended few teaspoons over the course of a day.

  3. So Yahoo answers aside, Dr. Google helped me to find out about my autoimmune disorder. Without having been googling my symptoms for months I would not have know what tests to ask for, and hence what was making my life and health suck. So what I’m taking from this is to simply google “Do I haz flu?” is a bad idea.
    I think everyone should google their symptoms, because no doctor is going to know what you are experiencing better than you.
    And steer clear of blatant advertizing.
    Always double check with Wikipedia.
    I don’t like how this seems down on googling symptoms, The science mag article seems much more relevant than the NYTimes article too.


    Googling my symptoms and making it a point to do the research saved my life.

    1. It’s definitely useful if you’re careful with your search terms (prefer scientific names to commonplace terms), watch where you’re getting the information from, and – my favourite – restrict your searches to the .edu domain. Takes a little longer to wade through the information, but you get way better quality results.

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