When we were first contacted by PT Lee, a proprietor of Who Is Sick?, to report about this new people-driven website, we were dismissive. After all, the website is a hypochondriac’s dream in action. Anyone, sick or not, can enter any symptoms and chart one’s location on the map for others to see. (As in the map above, one Golden Gate Park dweller has a runny nose; three multi-symptom objects are floating in the SF Bay.)
When the site gets widespread, no-questions-asked coverage across the blogosphere, and BoingBoing enthusiastically proclaims that the site is comparable to efforts of the father of epidemiology Dr. John Snow’s efforts to map cholera in London in 1854, we take it personally.
Putting aside a well-known tendency of BoingBoing to sensationalize anything (and, if it’s new or populist, not to question it), here’s a reminder to our readers. There is a difference between an observation and the scientific method. The peasant experience has not produced penicillin in 5,000 years of human history, but the scientific method did. If checking other people’s hypochondria is your cup of tea: go ahead and indulge yourself. But don’t call it epidemiology.
Will such a site ever be useful? Probably not. Run by people who cannot distinguish between fever and chills, vertigo and dizziness, and a host of other related and interrelated symptoms, such a site will never be a scientific tool. Just a screaming point for BoingBoing perhaps.