The Trouble with Wikipedia as a Source for Medical Information

14 09 2009

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for

Do you ever use Wikipedia? I do and so do many other people. It is for free, easy to use, and covers many subjects.

But do you ever use Wikipedia to look up scientific or medical information? Probably everyone does so once in a while. Dave Munger (Researchblogging) concluded a discussion on Twitter as follows:

Logo of the English Wikipedia
Image via Wikipedia

“Wikipedia’s information quality is better than any encyclopedia, online or off. And, yes, it’s also easy to use”.

Wikipedia is an admirable initiative. It is a large online collaborative, multilingual encyclopedia written by contributors around the world.
But the key question is whether you can rely on Wikipedia as the sole source for medical, scientific or even popular information.

Well, you simply can’t and here are a few examples/findings to substantiate this point.



When you search  for diabetes in Google (EN), Wikipedia’s entry about diabetes ranks second, below the American Diabetes Association Home Page. A recent study published in the J Am Med Inform Assoc [1] confirms what you would expect: that the English Wikipedia is a prominent source of online health information. Wikipedia ranked among the first ten results in more than 70% of search engines and health-keywords tested, and outranked other sources in case of rare disease-related keywords. Wikipedia’s articles were viewed more frequently than the corresponding MedlinePlus Topic pages. This corroborates another study that can be downloaded from the internet here [10]. This study by Envision Solutions, LLC, licensed under the Creative Commons License, concluded that the exposure of Internet user’s to health-related user-generated media (UGM) is significant, Wikipedia being the most reference resource on Google and Yahoo.

The following (also from, from 2007 [10]) illustrates the impact of this finding:

According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project*, 10 million US adults search online for information on health each day [1]. Most (66%) begin their research on a search engine like Yahoo or Google. In addition, Americans are saying that the information they find on the Internet is having an impact. According to Pew, “53% of health seekers report that their most recent health information session [influenced] how they take care of themselves or care for someone else.” In addition, 56% say the information they find online has boosted their confidence in their healthcare decision-making abilities.

And according to an update from the Pew Internet & American Life Project (2009) [11]:

In 2000, 46% of American adults had access to the internet, 5% of U.S. households had broadband connections, and 25% of American adults looked online for health information. Now, 74% of American adults go online, 57% of American households have broadband connections, and 61% of adults look online for health information.

Thus a lot of people look online for health care questions and are more inclined to use highly ranked sources.
This is not unique for Health topics but is a general phenomenon, i.e. see this mini-study performed by a curious individual: 96.6% of Wikipedia Pages Rank in Google’s Top 10 [12]. The extreme high traffic to Wikipedia due to search referrals has  even been been denounced by SEO-people (see here) [13]: if you type “holiday” Wikipedia provides little value when ranking in the top 10: everybody knows what a holiday is 😉

Medical students use it too.

A nightmare for most educators in the curriculum is that students rely on UGM or Web 2.0 sites as a source  of medical information. Just walk along medical students as they work behind their computers and take a quick glance at the pages they are consulting. These webpages often belong to the above category.

AnneMarie Cunningham, GP and Clinical Lecturer in the UK, did a little informal “survey” on the subject. She asked 31 first year medical students about their early clinical attachments in primary and secondary care and summerized the results on her blog Wishful Thinking in Medical Education [14]. By far and away Wikipedia was the most common choice to look up unfamiliar clinical topics.


‘Many students said I know I shouldn’t but….’ and then qualified that they used Wikipedia first because it was easy to understand, they felt it was reasonably reliable, and accessible. One student used it to search directly from her phone when on placement..

50% of the doctors use it!

But these are only medical students. Practicing doctors won’t use Wikipedia to solve their clinical questions, because they know where to find reliable medical information.


The New Scientist cites a report [15] of US healthcare consultancy Manhattan Research (April 2009), stating that that 50 percent of the doctors turn to Wikipedia for medical information.

A recent qualitative study published in Int J Med Inform [2] examined the “Web 2.0” use by 35 junior physicians in the UK. Diaries and interviews encompassing 177 days of internet use or 444 search incidents, analyzed via thematic analysis. Although concepts are loosely defined (Web 2.0, internet and UMG are not properly defined, i.e. Google is seen as a web 2.0 tool (!) [see Annemarie’s critical review [16] the results clearly show that 89% of these young physicians use at least one “Web 2.0 tool” (including Google!) in their medical practice, with 80% (28/35) reporting the use of wikis. The visit of wiki’s is largely accounted for by visits to Wikipedia: this was the second most commonly visited site, used in 26% (115/44) of cases and by 70% (25/35) of all physicians. Notably, only one respondent made regular contribution to a medical wiki site.

The main motivation for using the Internet for information seeking was the accessibility and ease of use over other tools (like textbooks), the uptodateness, the broad coverage and the extras such as interactive immages. On the other hand most clinicians realized that there was a limitation in the quality or usefulness of information found. It is reassuring that most doctors used UGM like Wikipedia for background or open questions, to fulfill the need for more in depth knowledge on a subject, or to find information for patients, not for immediate solving of clinical questions.

The Int J Med Inform article has been widely covered by blogs: i.e. see Wishful Thinking in Medical Education [16], Dr Shock, MD, PhD [17], Life in the Fast Lane [18], Clinical Cases and Images Blog [19] and Scienceroll [20].

Apparently some doctors also heavily rely on Wikipedia that they refer to Wikipedia articles in publications (see the Int. J Cardiol. PubMed [3] abstract below)!!

8-9-2009 14-03-15 Int J cardiol wikipedia references 2


Whether the common use of Wikipedia by e-patient, medical students and doctors is disadvantageous depends on the quality and the trustworthiness of the Wikipedia articles, and that is in its turn dependent on who writes the articles.

Basically, the strength of Wikipedia is it weakness: anyone can write anything on any subject, and anyone can edit it, anonymously.

Negative aspects include its coverage (choice of subjects but also the depth of coverage), the “overlinking”, the sometimes frustating interactions between authors and editors, regularly leading to (often polite) “revision wars“, but above all the lack of ‘expert’ authors or peer review. This may result in incomplete, wrong or distorted information.

Positive aspects are its accessibility, currency, availability in many languages, and the collective “authorship” (which is an admirable concept).

The following humorist video shows how the wisdom of the crowds can lead to chaos, incorrect and variable information.

SCOPE AND ACCURACY (What has been covered, how deep and how good) :

Too much, too little, too ….

With respect to its coverage one study in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication (2008) [4] concludes:

Differences in the interests and attention of Wikipedia’s editors mean that some areas, in the traditional sciences, for example, are better covered than others. (…)
Overall, we found that the degree to which Wikipedia is lacking depends heavily on one’s perspective. Even in the least covered areas, because of its sheer size, Wikipedia does well, but since a collection that is meant to represent general knowledge is likely to be judged by the areas in which it is weakest, it is important to identify these areas and determine why they are not more fully elaborated. It cannot be a coincidence that two areas that are particularly lacking on Wikipedia—law and medicine—are also the purview of licensed experts.

It is not unexpected though that Wikipedia’s topical coverage is driven by the interests of its users.

Sometimes data are added to Wikipedia, that are in itself correct, but controversial. Recently, Wikipedia published the 10 inkblots (Scienceroll, [21]) of the Rorschach test, along with common responses for each. This had led to complaints by Psychologists , who argue that the site is jeopardizing one of the oldest continuously used psychological assessment tests (NY Times [22]).

The actual coverage of medical subjects may vary greatly. In one study [5], abstract-format, 2007) Wikipedia entries were screened for the most commonly performed inpatient surgical procedures in the U.S. Of the 39 procedures, 35 were indexed on Wikipedia. 85.7% of these articles were deemed appropriate for patients. All 35 articles presented accurate content, although only 62.9% (n=22) were free of critical omissions. Risks of the procedures were significantly underreported. There was a correlation between an entry’s quality and how often it was edited.

Wikipedia may even be less suitable for drug information questions, questions that one-third of all Internet health-seekers search for. A study in Annals of Pharmacotherapy [6] comparing the scope, completeness, and accuracy of drug information in Wikipedia to a free, online, traditionally edited database (Medscape Drug Reference [MDR]) showed that  Wikipedia answered significantly fewer drug information questions (40.0%) compared with MDR (82.5%; p < 0.001) and that Wikipedia answers were less complete. Although no factual errors were found, errors of omission were higher in Wikipedia (n = 48) than in MDR (n = 14). The authors did notice a marked improvement in Wikipedia over time. The authors conclude:

This study suggests that Wikipedia may be a useful point of engagement for consumers looking for drug information, but that it should be supplementary to, rather than the sole source of, drug information. This is due, in part, to our findings that Wikipedia has a more narrow scope, is less complete, and has more errors of omission versus the comparator database. Consumers relying on incomplete entries for drug information risk being ill-informed with respect to important safety features such as adverse drug events, contraindications, drug interactions, and use in pregnancy.
These errors of omission may prove to be a substantial and largely hidden danger associated with exclusive use of
user-edited drug information sources.

Alternatively, user-edited sites may serve as an effective means of disseminating drug information and are promising as a means of more actively involving consumers in their own care. However, health professionals should not use user-edited sites as authoritative sources in their clinical practice, nor should they recommend them to patients without knowing the limitations and providing sufficient additional information and counsel…

Not Evidence Based

German researches found [7], not surprisingly, that Wikipedia (as well as two major German statutory health insurances):

“…failed to meet relevant criteria, and key information such as the presentation of probabilities of success on patient-relevant outcomes, probabilities of unwanted effects, and unbiased risk communication was missing. On average items related to the objectives of interventions, the natural course of disease and treatment options were only rated as “partially fulfilled”. (..)  In addition, the Wikipedia information tended to achieve lower comprehensibility. In conclusion(..) Wikipedia (..) does not meet important criteria of evidence-based patient and consumer information though…”

Wrong, misleading, inaccurate

All above studies point at the incompleteness of Wikipedia. Even more serious is the fact that some of the Wikipedia addings are wrong or misleading. Sometimes on purpose. The 15 biggest wikipedia blunders [23] include the death announcements of Ted Kennedy (when he was still alive),  Robert Byrd and others. Almost hilarious are the real time Wikipedia revisions after the presumed death of Kennedy and the death of Ken Lay (suicide, murde, heart attack? [24).

In the field of medicine, several drug companies have been caught altering Wikipedia entries. The first drug company messing with Wikipedia was AstraZeneca. References claiming that Seroquel allegedly made teenagers “more likely to think about harming or killing themselves” were deleted by a user of a computer registered to the drug company [25], according to Times [26]. Employees of Abbott Laboratories have also been altering entries to Wikipedia to “eliminate information questioning the safety of its top-selling drugs.”(See WSJ-blog [27] , [28], and recently Kevin MD[29])

These are “straightforward” examples of fraudulent material. But sometimes the Wikipedia articles are more subtly colored by positive or negative bias.

Take for instance the English entry on Evidence Based Medicine (in fact the reason why I started this post). Totally open-minded I checked the entry, which was automatically generated in one of my posts by Zemanta. First I was surprised by the definition of EBM:

Evidence-based medicine (EBM) aims to apply the best available evidence gained from the scientific method to medical decision making. It seeks to assess the quality of evidence of the risks and benefits of treatments (including lack of treatment).

instead of the usually cited Sacket-definition (this is only cited at the end of the paper):

“the practice of evidence based medicine means integrating individual clinical expertise with the best available external clinical evidence from systematic research”

In short, the whole article lacks cohesion: the definitions of EBM are not correct, there is too much emphasis on not directly relevant information (4 ways to grade the evidence and 3 statistical measures), the limitations are overemphasized (cf. chapter 7 with 6 in the Figure below) and put out of perspective.

Apparently this has also been noted by Wikipedia, because there is a notice on the Evidence Based Medicine Page saying:

This article has been nominated to be checked for its neutrality. Discussion of this nomination can be found on the talk page. (May 2009)

9-9-2009 9-55-04 wikipedia EBM start smal

Much to my surprise the article had been written by Mr-Natural-Health, who’s account seems not to be in use since 2004  and who is currently active as User:John Gohde. Mr Natural Health is a member of WikiProject Alternative medicine.

Now why in earth would some advocate of CAM write the Wikipedia EBM-entry? I can think of 4 (not mutually exclusive) reasons:

  1. When you’re an EBM-nonbeliever or opponent this is THE chance to misinform readers about EBM (to the advantage of CAM).
  2. The author was invited to write this entry.
  3. No EBM-specialist or epidemiologist is willing to write the entry, or to write for Wikipedia in general (perhaps because they find Wikipedia lacks trustworthiness?)
  4. EBM specialists/epidemiologists are not “allowed”/hindered to make major amendments to the text, let alone rewrite it.

According to Mr Naturopath point 2 is THE reason he wrote this article. Now the next question is “exactly by whom was he invited?” But the TALK-page reveals that Mr Naturapath makes it a tough job for other, better qualified writers, to edit the page (point 4). To see how difficult it is for someone to re-edit a page, please see the TALK-page. In fact, one look at this page discourages me from ever trying to make some amendments to any Wikpedia text.


Changes to Wikipedia’s organization

Wikipedia has long grasped that its Achilles heel is the free editability (see for instance this interview with Wikipedia’s founder [30]). Therefore, “WikiProjects” was initiated to help coordinate and organize the writing and editing of articles on a certain topic, as well as “Citizendium” which is an English-language wiki-based free encyclopedia project aimed to improve the Wikipedia model by providing a “reliable” encyclopedia. “It hopes to achieve this by requiring all contributors to use their real names, by strictly moderating the project for unprofessional behavior, by providing what it calls “gentle expert oversight” of everyday contributors, and also through its “approved articles,” which have undergone a form of peer-review by credentialed topic experts and are closed to real-time editing.”

Starting this fall Wikipedia will launch an optional feature called “WikiTrust” will color code every word of the encyclopedia based on the reliability of its author and the length of time it has persisted on the page: Text from questionable sources starts out with a bright orange background, while text from trusted authors gets a lighter shade.

9-9-2009 15-25-36 wikipedia wikiproject medicine

The Wikipedia EBM article is within the scope of these two projects, and this is good news. However, Wikipedia still clings to the idea that: “Everyone is welcome to join in this endeavor (regardless of medical qualifications!).” In my opinion, it would be better if Wikipedia gave precedence to experts instead of hobbyists/ people from another field, because the former can be expected to know what they are talking about. It is quite off-putting for experts to contribute. See this shout-out:

Who are these so-called experts who will qualify material? From what I’ve seen so far, being an academic expert in a particular field hardly protects one from edit wars–Julie and 172 are two primary examples of this. Meanwhile, the only qualification I have seen so far is that they have a B.A. Gimme a friggin’ break! (and before I get accused of academic elitism, I make it known that I dropped out of college and spend an inordinate amount of time at work correcting the BS from the BAs, MAs, and PhDs).

While anyone can still edit entries, the site is testing pages that require changes to be approved by an experienced Wikipedia editor before they show up, the so called Flagged protection and patrolled revisions. (see Wikimedia) This proposal is only for articles that are currently under normal mechanisms of protection (i.e. the Obama-article cannot be edited by a newcomer).

Although this seems logic, it is questionable whether “experienced” editors are per definition better qualified than newcomers. A recent interesting analysis of the Augmented Social Cognition group [31], (cited in the Guardian [32]) shows a slowdown in growth of Wikipedia activity, with the activity slightly declining in all classes of editors except for the highest-frequency class of editors (1000+ edits). Here is an increase in their monthly edits.

In addition the study shows growing resistance from the Wikipedia community to new content. The total percentage of reverted edits increased steadily over the years, but more interestingly, low-frequency or occasional editors experienced a visibly greater resistance compared to high-frequency editors . Together this points at a growing resistance from the Wikipedia community to new content, especially when the edits come from occasional editors.

This is more or less in line with an earlier finding [9] showing that Wikipedia members feel more comfortable expressing themselves on the net than off-line and scored lower on agreeableness and openness compared to non-Wikipedians, a finding that was interpreted as consistent with the possibility that contributing to Wikipedia serves mainly egocentric motives.

Image representing Medpedia as depicted in Cru...
Image via CrunchBase

Encouraging students, doctors and scientists (provisional)

One way of improving content, is to encourage experts to write. To achieve that the information on Wikipedia is of the highest quality and up-to-date, the NIH is encouraging its scientists and science writers to edit and even initiate Wikipedia articles in their fields [36]. It joined with the Wikimedia Foundation, to host  a training session on the tools and rules of wiki culture, at NIH headquarters in Bethesda.

A less noncommital approach is the demand to “Publish in Wikipedia or perish”, as described in Nature News [9]. Anyone submitting to a section of the journal RNA Biology will, in the future, be required to also submit a Wikipedia page that summarizes the work. The journal will then peer review the page before publishing it in Wikipedia.” The project is described in detail here [10] and the wiki can be viewed here

Wiki’s for experts.

One possible solution is that scientist and medica experts contribute to wiki’s other than the Wikipedia. One such wiki is the wiki-surgery [5]. PubDrugRxWiki , WikiProteins [11] and Gene Wiki [12] are other examples. In general, scientists are more inclined to contribute to these specialists wiki’s, that have oversight and formal contributions by fellow practitioners (this is also true for the RNA-wiki)

A medical Wikipedia

Yet another solution is a medical wikipedia, such as Ganfyd or Medpedia . Ganfyd is written by medical professionals. To qualify to edit or contribute to the main content of Medpedia approved editors must have an M.D., D.O., or Ph.D. in a biomedical field. Others, however, may contribute by writing in suggestions for changes to the site using the “Make a suggestion” link at the top of each page. Suggestions are reviewed by approved editors. Whether these medical wikipedias will succeed will depend on the input of experts and their popularity: to what extent will they be consulted by people with health questions?

I would like to end with a quote from Berci during twitterview (link in Wikipedia):

@Berci : @diariomedico And as Wikipedians say, Wikipedia is the best source to start with in your research, but should never be the last one. #DM1 9 months ago


ResearchBlogging.orgScientific Articles

  1. Laurent, M., & Vickers, T. (2009). Seeking Health Information Online: Does Wikipedia Matter? Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, 16 (4), 471-479 DOI: 10.1197/jamia.M3059
  2. Hughes, B., Joshi, I., Lemonde, H., & Wareham, J. (2009). Junior physician’s use of Web 2.0 for information seeking and medical education: A qualitative study International Journal of Medical Informatics, 78 (10), 645-655 DOI: 10.1016/j.ijmedinf.2009.04.008
  3. Lee, C., Teo, C., & Low, A. (2009). Fulminant dengue myocarditis masquerading as acute myocardial infarction International Journal of Cardiology, 136 (3) DOI: 10.1016/j.ijcard.2008.05.023
  4. Halavais, A., & Lackaff, D. (2008). An Analysis of Topical Coverage of Wikipedia Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13 (2), 429-440 DOI: 10.1111/j.1083-6101.2008.00403.x
  5. Devgan, L., Powe, N., Blakey, B., & Makary, M. (2007). Wiki-Surgery? Internal validity of Wikipedia as a medical and surgical reference Journal of the American College of Surgeons, 205 (3) DOI: 10.1016/j.jamcollsurg.2007.06.190
  6. Clauson, K., Polen, H., Boulos, M., & Dzenowagis, J. (2008). Scope, Completeness, and Accuracy of Drug Information in Wikipedia Annals of Pharmacotherapy, 42 (12), 1814-1821 DOI: 10.1345/aph.1L474 (free full text)
  7. Mühlhauser I, & Oser F (2008). [Does WIKIPEDIA provide evidence-based health care information? A content analysis] Zeitschrift fur Evidenz, Fortbildung und Qualitat im Gesundheitswesen, 102 (7), 441-8 PMID: 19209572
  8. Amichai–Hamburger, Y., Lamdan, N., Madiel, R., & Hayat, T. (2008). Personality Characteristics of Wikipedia Members CyberPsychology & Behavior, 11 (6), 679-681 DOI: 10.1089/cpb.2007.0225
  9. Butler, D. (2008). Publish in Wikipedia or perish Nature DOI: 10.1038/news.2008.1312
  10. Daub, J., Gardner, P., Tate, J., Ramskold, D., Manske, M., Scott, W., Weinberg, Z., Griffiths-Jones, S., & Bateman, A. (2008). The RNA WikiProject: Community annotation of RNA families RNA, 14 (12), 2462-2464 DOI: 10.1261/rna.1200508
  11. Mons, B., Ashburner, M., Chichester, C., van Mulligen, E., Weeber, M., den Dunnen, J., van Ommen, G., Musen, M., Cockerill, M., Hermjakob, H., Mons, A., Packer, A., Pacheco, R., Lewis, S., Berkeley, A., Melton, W., Barris, N., Wales, J., Meijssen, G., Moeller, E., Roes, P., Borner, K., & Bairoch, A. (2008). Calling on a million minds for community annotation in WikiProteins Genome Biology, 9 (5) DOI: 10.1186/gb-2008-9-5-r89
  12. Huss, J., Orozco, C., Goodale, J., Wu, C., Batalov, S., Vickers, T., Valafar, F., & Su, A. (2008). A Gene Wiki for Community Annotation of Gene Function PLoS Biology, 6 (7) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.0060175
    Other Publications, blogposts
    (numbers in text need to be adapted)

  13. Envision Solutions, LLC. Diving Deeper Into Online Health Search – Examining Why People Trust Internet Content & The Impact Of User-Generated Media (2007) Accessed August 2009 (CC)
  14. New data available of the the Pew Internet & American Life Project are available here)
  22. Wikipedia used by 70% of junior physicians, dominates search results for health queries (
  25. (Rorschach)
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30 responses

14 09 2009
Twitter Trackbacks for The Trouble with Wikipedia as a Source for Medical Information « Laika’s MedLibLog [] on

[…] The Trouble with Wikipedia as a Source for Medical Information « Laika’s MedLibLog – view page – cached Do you ever use Wikipedia? I do and so do many other people. It is for free, easy to use, and covers many subjects. — From the page […]

14 09 2009
Mike Cadogan

Wow, fantastic article
Thorough, comprehensive and just a little bit scary.
I must say that I have high hopes that Medpedia will make some progress in the rationalization of a shared and peer reviewed knowledge repository and I am enjoying watching it evolve.
I agree that scientists are far in advance of the general medical profession and are far more likely to contribute high quality information to their ‘expert wikis’ – I just cross my fingers that the high quality material will keep rising to the top of Google search results…or else ‘We’ll all be rooned’

14 09 2009
Dave Munger

I agree, Wikipedia should not be used for critical medical information except perhaps as a first-pass option — a well-organized starting point.

My tweet about Wikipedia was a general statement, a summary of its overall utility.

If you take your search for diabetes as an example, the Wikipedia article has over 100 external references, many of them possessing the authority you find lacking in Wikipedia itself. WebMD, by contrast, has about a dozen or so external references, in a page crowded with ads and other distractions.

This is not to say that Wikipedia has better medical information, just that it can serve as an access point for better information. I’ll stand by my statement that overall Wikipedia’s information content exceeds any other encyclopedia’s.

14 09 2009
ICMCC News Page » The Trouble with Wikipedia as a Source for Medical Information

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15 09 2009
Eamon Costello

Great article, a lot of good information in there. I sense you are quite wary of Wikipedia and cite some good examples as to why this should be so. However you can turn this problem on its head and look at Wikipedia as an example of a platform that lets anyone correct articles. This is something much simpler than trying to take down a page on a privately owned website you come across which displays information which is clearly false.

The point is well made that people are using Wikipedia as a primary source of information and they should take it with a pinch of salt. Experienced readers will recognise good articles from questionable ones. Wikipedia aslo contains warning mechanisms that alert a user if an article does not cite sources, appears biased etc. The effort of adding a warning is a lot less than correcting the article so Wikipedia has a gradation of quality control. This is something you do not get in any other medium.

One famous study you do not mention is the one from Nature where researchers compared Encyclopaedia Britannica with Wikipedia. What was interesting was that a lot of mistakes were actually found in the former. Wikipedia contains errors but many professionals do not know what they are talking about and even journals can contain mistakes. At least in Wikis mistakes can be corrected.

Most people cannot read Scientific journals Wikipedia breaks down this barrier a bit. Considering most people trust advertising for nutritional advice Wikipedia is a huge leap forward.

However if I got sick I’d go see a doctor 🙂

15 09 2009
Wikipedia Used for Medical Information Despite Problems «

[…] 15, 2009 · Leave a Comment Jacqueline at Laika’s MedLibLog has a new post about the problems with using Wikipedia as a source of medical information. She […]

16 09 2009
Anne Marie Cunningham

Thanks for an interesting blog. I’d like to point out that my conversations with medical students were very informal. This wasn’t in any way meant to be a study or representative. I wasn’t surveying them. Maybe I should go back and edit that blog post to make it sound less scientific! The prime aim of the interview was to give feedback to students on their reflective portfolios. Where students looked things up came up as a topic so I asked more of them the same question.
I’m really sorry if I have mis-represented the activity.

Anne Marie

16 09 2009

Don’t worry, Anne Marie, I did understand you correctly, but could have pointed out more clearly that you informally asked students questions, not “surveyed” them. I have changed that now. And although we can’t see it as scientific proof it fits in with what we all experience (and what the “real” studies substantiate).
Perhaps I wouldn’t have cited you in a scientific paper, but this is just a blogpost 😉

16 09 2009
Should Students Use Wikipedia as a Source of Medical Information? « Dundee e-MedEd Blog

[…] overview of Wikipedia and whether it should be used as a source of medical infromation, ‘The Trouble with using Wikipedia as a source of medical information‘, on Laika’s MedLibLog. Laika (Jaqueline) is a medical librarian in Amsterdam and blogs […]

17 09 2009
Recent links on Open Access « Free Our Books

[…] The Trouble with Wikipedia as a Source for Medical Information: It’s not reliable, because a lot of it isn’t written by experts. presents selected English-language articles, books, and other printed and electronic sources that are useful in understanding scholarly electronic publishing efforts on the Internet. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Learned society members and open accessDefinitions set # 4Open Humanities PressWikipedia entry for hybrid open access […]

23 09 2009
Health Highlights – September 22nd, 2009 | Highlight HEALTH

[…] The Trouble with Wikipedia as a Source for Medical Information | Laika’s MedLibLog […]

25 09 2009

I’m a new but huge fan of your blog – and this is a fantastic post. And, interestingly enough, one week after your post, as you may already know, the US Food & Drug Administration made an announcement that was essentially like saying, “So… this series of tubes thing… we hear it’s kind of a big deal…” And by that I mean, they set a date for public hearings to discuss the promotion of medical products on the Internet, including social media and Wiki platforms, and including issues of information dissemination, correction, etc. (so not only direct-to-consumer advertising; also like, companies’ obligations (or lack thereof) concerning information they provide — and information that’s just “out there” — on various online communications platforms, related to their medical products and/or diseases, etc. etc. etc…..). Plus they’ve invited public comments now through Feb. 28, 2010 (the public hearings are in November of this year).

ANYWAY… that was a rambling way of saying that this is an extremely interesting, important topic you’ve written about, and it’ll be interesting to see what, if anything, our FDA will do on these related issues. (More info is available in many places – WSJ Health Blog broke the story earlier this week, many blogs have discussed it, including us…

Thank you for your comprehensive, well-documented, thoughtful explanation and analysis!

25 09 2009

“Welcome to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit”. Those are the exact words from Wikipedia itself and there lies the problem. It can be edited or vandalized by anyone who has an Internet access.

Despite it’s wealth of information, sometimes it provides false information and many abuse or provide contradictory information to misguide the readers.

For example, the following information appeared on the Wikipedia at some point:

(i) David Beckham was a Chinese goalkeeper in the 18th Century
(ii) Tony Blair, the ex-British Prime Minister, worshipped the Hitler.
(iii) Paul Reiser, Mad About You star, died in 2008
(iv) Greek philosopher Plato was a Hawaiian weather man and surfer, writer of cosmo girls, and a student of Barney the purple dinosaur.

With the current freestyle editing rules, this online material cannot be used as a reference and it deters many of us from the truth. However, the new editing policy would require an authoritative Wikipedia editor to approve the changes before it’s published. This might help to gain some support from the College Professors and other experts.

Having said that, nothing beats the Wikipedia when it comes for quick reference(s) in order to get a general understanding of the topic. However, when it comes to medical information, further research is needed on other credible online or paper based resources approved and published by well renowned scholars and publishers.

Thank you for a great analysis.



30 09 2009
Ask A Doctor

Wikipedia can never be quoted or used as a authentic source for knowledge which the doctors as well as the medical students should learn from traditional established text books. Internet can provide information not Knowledge.

5 10 2009
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5 10 2009
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19 10 2009
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[…] The Trouble with Wikipedia as a Source for Medical Information « Laika’s MedLibLog Uso de la Wikipedia en entornos médicos Muy interesante y contrastado (tags: salud2.0 Wikipedia bibliografia) […]

24 10 2009
Trouble with Wikipedia « ScienceRoll

[…] entries about how Wikipedia should be or not be used in medicine. Jacqueline at Laikas MedLiblog published a fantastic report in which she analyzed the pros and cons; how students, patients or doctors use Wikipedia and what […]

25 10 2009

Great article!An eye-opener.Thank you..

17 02 2010
Do you use Wikipedia as a source of medical information? Read this… « SunCat: the AHSL-Phoenix weblog

[…] When you search  for diabetes in Google (EN), Wikipedia’s entry about diabetes ranks second, below the American Diabetes Association Home Page. A recent study published in the J Am Med Inform Assoc [1] confirms what you would expect: that the English Wikipedia is a prominent source of online health information. Wikipedia ranked among the first ten results in more than 70% of search engines and health-keywords tested, and outranked other sources in case of rare disease-related keywords. Wikipedia’s articles were viewed more frequently than the corresponding MedlinePlus Topic pages. This corroborates another study that can be downloaded from the internet here [10]. This study by Envision Solutions, LLC, licensed under the Creative Commons License, concluded that the exposure of Internet user’s to health-related user-generated media (UGM) is significant, Wikipedia being the most reference resource on Google and Yahoo….Read entire post here:… […]

10 04 2010
The Trouble with Wikipedia as a Source for Medical Information … « Social Computing Technology

[…] from: The Trouble with Wikipedia as a Source for Medical Information … censorship, publishing, […]

6 05 2010
Ιατρική Πληροφόρηση και αξιοπιστία (της) στο Ελληνικό Διαδίκτυο, μέρος 1ο

[…] The Trouble with Wikipedia as a Source for Medical Information (Laika’s MedLibLog) […]

24 05 2010
E-Patients & I-Patients? « Laika's MedLibLog

[…] definition of E-patients is not unequivocal. Wikipedia, the e-medium also for e-medicine (although not always as accurate as we would like it to be [1]) defines e-patients as follows: e-Patients (also known as Internet […]

21 06 2010
ezra limm

I normally avoid cursing online. But for this website I would like to say that the snap previews that pop-up over every damn word/phrase in the text is fucking annoying.

12 09 2010

The best part of Wikipedia exposure is that it forces you to use critical thinking skills.

Trusting sources due to an appeal to authority is just as bad as trusting Wikipedia.

13 02 2011
Internet Sources & Blog Posts in a Reference List? Yes or No? « Laika's MedLibLog

[…] Previously, I have blogged about the trouble with Wikipedia as a source for information. In short, as Wikipedians say, Wikipedia is the best source to start with in your research, but should never be the last one (quote from @berci in a twitterinterview). In reality, most students and doctors do consult Wikipedia and dr. Google (see here and here). However, they may not (and mostly should not) use it as such in their writings. As I have indicated in the earlier post it is not (yet) a trustworthy source for scientific purposes. […]

20 03 2013
Ιατρική Πληροφόρηση και αξιοπιστία της στο Ελληνικό Διαδίκτυο | Pharma Market Journal

[…] The Trouble with Wikipedia as a Source for Medical Information (Laika's MedLibLog) […]

12 07 2013
Medpedia, the Medical Wikipedia, is Dead. And we Missed its Funeral… | Laika's MedLibLog

[…] In a post about Wikipedia in 2009 I suggested that initiatives like Ganfyd or Medpedia, might be a solution to Wikipedia’s accuracy and credibility problems, because only health experts are allowed to edit or contribute to the content of these knowledge bases. […]

16 11 2015
Victor Lage


I am a multilanguol brazilian doctor, and on occasion I myself have edited Wikipedia. I was attracted by its collabotative feature. but I soon stopped because:

– Anybody could edite any pages I made. That is, accurately or not. with good or bad intentions. Sometimes with polytical intentions, rather then academic ones.
– Yes, I could watch the pages I edited. But then, it turned out as a headache: each time one of my pages, the system would tell me. And then sometimes the alterations would become something like theold “flames” in discussion groups, when people used Wikipedia to discuss polytical ideas that had nothing to do to the scientific points they should be there to explain. Every now and then they were edited by “discyclopedins” — those who want to deliberately fake the pages, and state pseudotruths in a way that looked like the real stuff (either as pranks or by any other motivational). I felt responsible, and it turned out as a nuisanca to stay aware and correct them,
– And then there was the question of the cultural multiplicity of users / editors. I didn´t even try to translate my pages to other idioms, in order to see that other portuguese speakers had definitly different opinions and cultural background about what I wrote. meaning “different truths” even about some very common pieces of knowledge.
– Then agan finally it is ANONYMOUS. This meant I had a page to present me, and where I could even add my credentials and a mini-cv. BUT NOBODY EVER VERIFYEDT IT. When I asked someone about that, I was gently told “it was against the phylosophy of Wikipedia”.
– Well, to be sure I am not proud of the experience, and now I don´t give a d*** about what is written there. It simply looks like nothing but kid´s play. Surely, it is not science. When I want to read science, I want to have a reliable source, which quotes its sources and unmistakingly shows the credentials of who wrote it. — not anonymosly written matter that doesn´t have the obligation to cite its sources. There simply are too many papers written — even in the best scientific magazines — which have to be scientifically evaluated in order to check its scientific validity. I can´t afford the time to read this kind of stuff.
– And on top of it all, now they´re asking people to contribute to the project!

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