No One Ever Said You Should Rely On Wikipedia For Drug Info

from the if-you-didn't-know-that-already dept

There are a bunch of headlines today about a new study that notes that you shouldn't rely on Wikipedia for drug info that I'm sure has various Wikipedia-haters feeling good about themselves. Of course, the details of the study suggest that Wikipedia comes out of the study looking much better than you might expect.

First of all, who relies on any encyclopedia for comprehensive drug information? That's not the purpose of any encyclopedia. But, more to the point, the study didn't find any errors in Wikipedia info, compared to their review of Medscape Drug Reference, a peer-reviewed site. While MDR did provide the answers to many more questions than Wikipedia, four of the answers in MDR were inaccurate, while none in Wikipedia were. The real issue was that Wikipedia's info wasn't as complete, often leading to "errors of omission." Of course, again, things aren't as bad as they seem, as the researchers noted that while watching Wikipedia entries over a 90 day period, the entries improved greatly, a process that's likely to continue.

So, basically, the study pretty much points out the obvious: you shouldn't have been relying on Wikipedia as your sole source for anything, let alone something as important as questions about pharmaceuticals you're taking. But, as a starting point that is backed up with multiple other sources, it might not be that bad. And, that's exactly what Wikipedia is designed to do.


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    Sean, Nov 26th, 2008 @ 6:22am

    Lack of critical thinking

    I love wikipedia (but I've stopped contributing due to hostile re-edits from wannabe subject-matter-experts) but I'd never rely on it for life-changing decisions.

    When I was writing my thesis I absolutely did use Wikipedia - because it was a great way to get an overview of opinions on a matter, find further reading, and eventually use it to help me find relevant material in the huge libraries and vast amounts of material that I had access to.

    I didn't use it as a source. I used it as a tool, and it's in my bibliography as such.

     

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    DCX2, Nov 26th, 2008 @ 6:30am

    Wiki allows me to become familiar enough with a topic that I can then form a competent Google query and search for more authoritative results. It can be somewhat hard to start learning quantum mechanics, for instance, unless you know what are quarks, bosons, mesons, gluons, hadrons, and so forth.

     

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    Noah Buddy, Nov 26th, 2008 @ 6:41am

    "over a 90 day period, the entries improved"

    There are probably a great number of people who truly don't understand how a Wiki works. It may benefit Wikipedia, or whoever, to maybe put a warning on the top of articles....

    An idea I had would be to have the color of the text change as it ages. Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Black. Each step of aging takes 10 days. Of course this would have to be an option to viewing the page in all black, but it would be an interesting way to visualize how volitile the information may be.

     

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      another mike, Nov 26th, 2008 @ 11:00am

      Re:

      That's a great idea. But a strictly time-based fade-to-black only shows how stale the data is, not how authoritative it is. Maybe add a way to push the ink to black with edits by credentialed subject matter experts and linked sources.

      Wikipedia already asks for more citations on some articles; maybe those could stay red. Having the world's foremost expert writing the article could get it printed in black (or blue until peer reviewed).

      I'm really liking this idea of colored ink on Wikipedia.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 26th, 2008 @ 6:45am

    Why do you assume anyone hates Wikipedia, it's a great resource for annecdotal knowlege, but not really as a citeable source. It serves its purpose.
    The point of the news stories is to inform the public that the entries in wikipedia are not comprehensive. There are alot of people that have techie friends and see them using a tool and decide that it must be the best tool. You could make the argument that darwinism will weed these people out of society, but I think we should give them a heads up anyway, with it being the holidays and all.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 26th, 2008 @ 6:45am

    Why do you assume anyone hates Wikipedia, it's a great resource for annecdotal knowlege, but not really as a citeable source. It serves its purpose.
    The point of the news stories is to inform the public that the entries in wikipedia are not comprehensive. There are alot of people that have techie friends and see them using a tool and decide that it must be the best tool. You could make the argument that darwinism will weed these people out of society, but I think we should give them a heads up anyway, with it being the holidays and all.

     

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      Crabby (profile), Nov 26th, 2008 @ 12:24pm

      Every professor I've had would go rabid if they thought you used Wikipedia as an end source for a paper.

      But the key point is that you shouldn't rely on it to be accurate. Trust, but verify. As others have noted, it is an excellent starting point, even if all you get from it is a few names that you can then do more research on.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 26th, 2008 @ 7:14am

    so drinking motor oil doesn't cure headaches? DAMN YOU WIKIPEDIA!!!

     

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    Dan, Nov 26th, 2008 @ 7:41am

    I think this article falls into the "Don't believe everything you read" category. Wiki is awesome ... as a rule though you should always double check the info you get from any source. I think that put's my comment in the "Duh" category. :D

     

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    Anon2, Nov 26th, 2008 @ 10:38am

    I've always found the Wiki entries on prescription drugs to be extremely accurate, and I am pretty obsessive about learning everything I possibly can about any new prescription medication recommended for me or anyone close to me. I've never yet found any problems with Wiki's information as compared to reading the FDA approved label info, or the drug company's published info.

    Indeed, were I a bit less sophisticated about the nomenclature, chemistry, etc. -- i.e., an average Joe consumer -- I'd have a real problem with Wiki's entries on Rx drugs, because they are written with a highly technical orientation.

     

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