_____________________________________________________________________ VOLUME 1, ISSUE 5 PSYCHNEWS INTERNATIONAL August/September 1996 _____________________________________________________________________ SECTION A: EDITORIAL -------------------------------------------------------- DISSEMINATOR INTERNET BARRIERS TO AND BOOSTERS OF IMPROVING THE QUALITY IN HEALTH SCIENCES AND SERVICE DELIVERY Sunkyo Kwon Bad habits are hard to break. And bad habits are almost incorrigible if exercised on the Internet. A well-known Net phenomenon are flame wars, e.g. an individual starts sending an offensive posting to a Usenet newsgroup or an email discussion forum, and others pick it up. "Discussion" gets more and more out of hand and off-topic, sometimes up to the point of destroying a healthy discussion group. This flame war may also overspill to other forums, wasting considerable bandwidth and endangering the existence of even more groups. The vulnerability of subgroups on the Net has been documented by the influence that single individuals can exert to shape and/or distract the nature of interwoven Internet subgroups. This is but one example that demonstrates the power of the Internet which can be used for good or for bad. The Internet itself is only a medium, it is up to the individual user how to take adavantage of it. A main function of Internet resources consists of rapid dissemination of information and discussion. This characteristic presents one of its biggest potentials and also one of its major problems. Collaborative ventures can bloom, but destructive tendencies can just as well proliferate in an Ionescian fashion of progredient decay. For instance, commercial enterprises have discovered the feature of the Internet to rapidly expose a large number of Internetters to information. As a consequence, we find ourselves more and more confronted with unwanted advertisements, either sent to existing groups or disguised as private emails. Once you are on a "list of marketing targets", there is rarely a way out, except by changing your email address. The signal-to-noise ratio becomes extremely unbalanced and presents a major hazard to the Internet image. The laws of marketing are incompatible with the unwritten regulations of the Internet. However, not all commercial ventures on the Net can be stereotyped as unconstructive. Particularly the Internet presence of health-related commercial (and non-profit) health service providers in the non-instrusive form of offerings on the World Wide Web (WWW) seems to be a promising way to provide additional information on available services. Telemarketing and teleshopping for services are potential ways to inform the prospective health service user of alternatives that he or she may otherwise have been unaware of. Also, there are special interest groups that are expressis verbis designed to sell material and immaterial products and services of the health industry. Such channels -- within clearly defined borders -- incite and reinforce competition, which in turn acts as an incentive to the industry to improve the quality of their products. Of course, commercial Internet information is usually exaggerated, and asks for concerted efforts for consumer protection. That is, there need to be independent clearinghouses and coordinating agents that make health services presented on the Internet understandable, that compare, and that warn against bad practice. Once the boundaries of health services marketing are clearly defined and independent agents of quality control established in the field, the prospects for good service delivery catalyzed by the medium Internet are most positive. Until then, the wild growth of profit-makers on the Net seems utterly unproductive. Quality control in the health sciences by means of Internet usage now is at a turning point. While information dissemination and communication has once been one of the major surplus values of the Net, the still-increasing number of services available for and from science has led to additional information overflow that is just as hard to come by as the incessantly growing number of the print media. The creative and cooperative potentials of Internet usage for researchers are still not exhausted. However, it seems to be a good time now to channel and institutionalize certain Internet functions, that have survived the test of time. Here are some examples: (1) Proliferation and support for online journals, (2) open-peer review on the Internet, (3) WWW presence of research projects for ready access to timely information about ongoing studies. Lastly, I would like to emphasize a potential for quality control of research qua the Internet that has been theoretically possible even before emergence of the WWW in 1992, but that seems suitable now at this time when being a scientist and being ignorant of "the Net" as a research tool to be taken as seriously as, say, a popular statistics software package. It needs to be encouraged to present more interim results of ongoing research in chats (email discussion forums, newsgroups, maybe interactive web sites, irc and videoconference meetings). The format that the "basic Internet tools", e.g. email and newsgroups, ask for is strictly text-based and restricted in depth and breadth. This mode calls for using concise and precise language, to concentrate to the essentials, while readily allowing status quo presentations in any stage of the research process, but without the peer pressure and (time and personnel) resource depletion involved in conference presentations and publications. To summarize: The Internet itself is neither good nor bad. It offers features that are not available otherwise. It needs to be recognized that the potent information dissemination potentials can act as quality control agents if used prudently. It is up to every single Internet user: To boost or to block.