Blockheaded political views spread via the Internet or on-line services do little tangible harm. The same can't be said for bum medical scoops passed along to sick people plugged into computer networks.

Last spring, an obscure epilepsy drug, Neurotin, was touted on a Prodigy data service used by patients with Lou Gehrig's disease - a paralyzing and fatal ailment. Scattered reports of improvement by a few Lou Gehrig sufferers sent thousands to doctors' offices, seeking a prescription.By now, reports The Wall Street Journal, a third of the estimated 30,000 Americans with the disease - also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) - have taken Neurotin.

Alas, the initial reports appear unfounded - a product of ALS patients' poignant desire to believe themselves getting better.

Of 19 ALS-stricken Prodigy subscribers who claimed gains, three died within 12 weeks, while none showed lasting improvement. Breathing, talking and swallowing became harder for most. Also, Neurotin can cause side effects - as though ALS victims needed further health complications.

A greater problem caused by computer scuttlebutt may affect clinical trials. Under Food and Drug Administration rules, researchers testing a new drug must set up a control group of patients, who receive an inert placebo. But with an alleged wonder compound such as Neurotin receiving on-line kudos, people with quick-killing diseases like ALS aren't keen on possibly getting shots of distilled water.

Since crushing the electronic-information revolution isn't a live option, the task is to manage its ill effects on medical science. For a start, perhaps we should look on the bright side: Patients aprowl for on-line news about their diseases may be an adjunct to overworked physicians behind in their med-journal reading. Some democratization of the doctor-patient relationship isn't the worst horror of the Info Age.

Meanwhile, disease-afflicted people scanning the Internet have one other reason for hope: The same human genius responsible for electronic miracles is diligently pursuing medical ones.