Authoritative Sources


What are authoritative sources for scientific evidence-based and peer-reviewed information?

The following descriptions briefly explain the difference between primary, secondary, tertiary, and other sources for scientific peer-reviewed information.

Primary Information Source:
Articles in scientific journals that report the findings from research studies and experiments are considered "primary" information sources, because they are "first hand" accounts of the actual research and the results, i.e. the original scientific evidence. Papers about original empirical research must conform to acceptable scientific standards for conducting and reporting such research, and must pass peer-review to be published as articles in a scientific journal. Link to Examples of Primary Source Scientific Literature
Secondary Information Source:
The various original scientific studies described above generate a wealth of "primary evidence" that periodically needs to be gathered, organized, and assessed by the clinical and scientific communities to give us a sense of the current "state of the science" on a given topic. These types of research "Review" articles are considered a secondary source because they are "second-hand" accounts which integrate the scientific evidence from a number of original research studies. However, such scientific "Review" articles must also conform to scientifically acceptable methodologic standards for gathering, synthesizing, and reporting the available evidence, and also must be peer-reviewed before being published in a reputable scientific journal. Link to Examples of Secondary Source Scientific Literature.
Tertiary Information Sources:
Textbooks offer an example of a usually reliable source of information, that may or may not be peer-reviewed. The more accurate and reliable textbooks will contain information that is drawn only from the evidence from primary and secondary source articles that have been published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, and that conform to scientific standards for summarizing and interpreting that information.  For instance, the author(s) of an accurate and reliable textbook will appropriately and objectively summarize all information available on a topic, and not just "pick and choose" certain evidence or interpret the selected evidence in a biased manner. 
In accredited institutions, textbooks are reviewed and approved by the faculty of the institution, which provides another level of "peer-review" of the information in the textbook. Textbooks in wide use by a number of accredited institutions may give a further indication of the extent to which educators, clinicians, and scientists consider the book a credible and legitimate source of accurate and complete information.
Other authoritative peer-reviewed sources:
Information from other sources may be considered "peer-reviewed", in that the information is reviewed, approved, and regularly updated by a group of recognized authorities such as health profession organizations, accredited institutions and universities, and governmental entities. Such organizations may produce and disseminate monographs and reports that offer synopses of "current evidence" for health care professionals. An example of such a "synopsis of current evidence" is the report from the Institute of Medicine "Immunization Safety Review: Multiple Immunizations and Immune Dysfunction", available via the IOM web links provided below. 
Websites maintained or sanctioned by such recognized authorities are also a source for brief information summaries such as FAQ pages (Frequently Asked Questions) or "Fact Sheets" that have been compiled by clinical experts and scientists in public health and immunology. These FAQ/Fact Sheets synthesize complex scientific evidence and present it in a way that can be more easily read and understood by patients and the "typical" health care consumer. Such FAQ/Fact summaries of scientific evidence-based information can usually be downloaded directly from the Internet. 
Examples of online FAQ/Fact Sheets on vaccination include the following links to the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Institute of Medicine. Also included are links to useful guides that can help health care consumers "sort through" and determine whether various Internet-based information comes from a credible, authoritative source. 
These links are provided only as examples of the many sources and types of vaccination information available to consumers on the Internet.  The authors of the Immunization Information Resource website do not take responsibility for the content of other websites, nor for evaluating or endorsing that content.


Institute of Medicine
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) is a branch of the National Academy of Sciences providing health-related information to the government, corporate sector, professions and the public.

World Health Organization
The World Health Organization (WHO) is an international organization concerned with the attainment of health.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is the U.S. Federal agency charged with protecting the health and safety of the general population.

Hopkins Health 
Faculty from Johns Hopkins Schools of Medicine, Public Health or Nursing take responsibility for the accuracy of all information provided in this database of health-related documents, with no editorial content from faculty with any conflict of interest.

Health Summit Working Group: Criteria for Assessing the Quality of Health Information on the Internet

CDC: 10 Tips on Evaluating Immunization Information on the Internet:
CDC National Vaccine Program Office: 10 Tips on Evaluating Immunization Information



[ Top of Page ] [ Up ] [ Home ]

Last updated on: 02/26/2004