Don’t Trust Wikipedia

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Kaitlin Yent – In a recent comparison study, scientists confirmed that nine out of 10 health-related Wikipedia entries are erroneous. The U.S. team compared entries on heart disease, lung cancer, depression, diabetes and many more with peer-reviewed research finding “many errors.”

When examining the pages that described the top 10 most expensive diseases in the United States (osteoarthritis, back problems and asthma, among them), they discovered that 90% of the research represented contradicted the most recent scientific journals and medical research.

As one might expect, all the experts involved strongly urged Wiki-users to see their physician before trusting the Internet. Lead author Dr. Robert Hasty explains, “While Wikipedia is a convenient tool for conducting research, from a public health standpoint patients should not use it as a primary resource because those articles do not go through the same peer-review process as medical journals.”

But the problem is not so much that the errors affect the patients, rather, that 70% of the medical community is said to rely on Wikipedia as a study-aid or refresher course.

Wikipedia is the sixth most popular site online…quite a claim. The site is a charity; it hosts over 30 million articles and is published in 285 languages. With such a massive reach, they take their accuracy accusations seriously. Wikimedia has responded, “[There are a] number of initiatives [to help improve articles], especially in relation to health and medicine, [with a focus on making entries]accurate and more readable.” The plan relies on volunteer editors with medical knowledge. They are charged with identifying areas to be edited and finding credible sources to improve the articles in question.

Dr. James Heilman, president of Wiki Project Med Foundation, disagrees with the findings, saying, “The conclusions of Hasty’s paper are not supported by the data he provides. One example…of a so called ‘error’ is Wikipedia’s recommendation on the diagnosis of blood pressure. We stated that three measurements are usually required. So does the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence in the UK which was our reference. Wikipedia is not about truth but about verifiability.”…Nonetheless, Wikipedia echoes the warning of the authors, urging anyone with medical concerns to go to a doctor before an encyclopedia.

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