Perhaps Brain Surgeons Do Use Wikipedia...

from the brain-surgery? dept

I have a good friend who's a surgeon at a big, well-known hospital. Not so long ago, he told me that he'd often use Google to look up details on a surgery he was about to perform, as it was often a great way to remind him of certain things, or even to reacquaint himself with a few important points for the surgery. He thought it was silly that doctors bashed such things, as it wasn't like all of his medical training and surgical experience and knowledge went out the window by reading up on things online. It reminded me of one of the typical complaints against Wikipedia: that you wouldn't want your brain surgery conducted by the crowd reading Wikipedia, but by a surgeon trained at a medical school. That, of course is a silly strawman, since (a) you wouldn't want someone to conduct brain surgery if they learned about it solely from any written source, rather than going to medical school and (b) it assumed that of all the people looking at and editing Wikipedia, none of them were brain surgeons themselves.

I'm thinking of this, as I see this story noting that 50% of doctors admit to doing research on Wikipedia. I'd guess a few of them are even brain surgeons. So can we get rid of this stupid claim that Wikipedia isn't trustworthy? The studies mentioned in the article found that medical info on Wikipedia has a very high level of accuracy. No, no one's learning brain surgery from Wikipedia, but to pretend its not a useful resource among many others is simply ignoring reality.


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  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 4th, 2009 @ 11:46am

    Wikipedia isn't trustworthy in and of itself, it is a source to get you looking at other things. It is a very good place to start a search, but it better not also be the end.

     

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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Aug 4th, 2009 @ 11:55am

    Re:

    The Encyclopedia Britannica better not be the beginning and end of research ether. No research should ever use only one source. I see inaccuracies in Wikipedia articles but I see more in static sources like newspapers and even Britannica.

    The great thing about Wikipedia is its dedicated following of hundreds of people who will go out of their way to check what people have put up.

    It's a vary good place to go to settle drunken bets.

     

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    Ryan, Aug 4th, 2009 @ 12:07pm

    Re: Re:

    It's a vary good place to go to settle drunken bets.

    Especially if you changed the article just before making the wager.

    But yeah, criticims of wikipedia are generally idiotic, as if just about any other source doesn't have its own inaccuracies. In my opinion, this is actually one of its greatest strengths; people know that the info may not be accurate, so they take it with a grain of salt. Other sources claim to be trustworthy, even if they are not or portray a very skewed view of an issue. If people read everything with the same mindset they read Wikipedia, we'd be a much more intelligent society.

     

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    The Cneobyte, Aug 4th, 2009 @ 12:11pm

    Trustworthy?

    Wikipedia is pretty accurate and fairly trustworthy. However it's not perfect and it's up to you to filter that content and research other sites to see how accurate the info is.

     

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    Richard, Aug 4th, 2009 @ 12:12pm

    Wikipedia accuracay

    Wikipedia is actually very good on technical subjects - because only people with the right background will post there.

    It is at its worst in areas of controversy that are more accessible to the general public.

    As a University Lecturer in Computer Science I am quite happy to send students there as a reference in preference to many textbooks. In these areas it has the advantage of being reviewed and edited by many hands.

    I would guess it is the same for brain surgery - if you aren't a brain surgeon you won't know enough to make an even halfway plausible post there.

     

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    Steve Smith, Aug 4th, 2009 @ 12:15pm

    I'm a Wikipedia administrator and therefore not surprisingly a supporter of Wikipedia, but I certainly wouldn't agree that most criticisms of it are "idiotic". It needs to be read with great caution and while experienced users of it will generally develop a pretty good sense for what is and isn't accurate, I would never rely on Wikipedia without corroborating sources for anything the least bit important (I'd probably be willing to use Wikipedia to confirm my side of a drunken bet, but if it confirmed the other side I'd want another, more reliable, source before I'd pay up).

    I presume that your friend the brain surgeon uses it to twig his memory, in which case his extensive education qualifies as a corroborating source, so that doesn't strike me as inherently problematic. But Chronno, if you see fewer inaccuracies in Wikipedia than you do in (admittedly inaccuracy-ridden) mainstream news sources, you're not looking at Wikipedia with a sufficiently critical eye.

     

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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Aug 4th, 2009 @ 12:15pm

    Bit of a leap

    "I see this story noting that 50% of doctors admit to doing research on Wikipedia. I'd guess a few of them are even brain surgeons. "

    Possibly, but the things they're checking on WikiP are unlikely to be brain-surgery-specific stuff, given the low proportion of informed contributers, which make that statement true, but misleading.

    If I want to know what the capitol of Iceland is, I pretty much trust WikiP. If I want to know what is going on with Kaupthing Bank, at least at the moment, I'm guessing that it's in flux, to put it kindly.

     

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    Anony1, Aug 4th, 2009 @ 12:44pm

    Any claim is as good as it's source. Wikipedia is frowned upon by higher learning (highschool, colleges) primarily because it becomes the only source sometimes, IMHO, more than for the accuracy. Good research means using multiple sources.Critical thinking skills are learned by good research, and if you can lazily (or conveniently depending on your POV) reach for one source, it defeats the purpose. The thing is, Wikipedia isn't actually one source. Articles on a particular subject generally have links to the source material. On an article on space flight for instance, there might be 20 sources. Some of those sources would be cited as NASA. If I saw an article on worm hole travel, and the source was linked to a child's drawing of space, then perhaps there is an issue. The point is, when someone claim's Wikipedia isn't a reliable "source" they're right in a sense. Wikipedia isn't a single source, it's multiple sourced material brought together under one portal.

     

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    Anony1, Aug 4th, 2009 @ 12:46pm

    In short, people who would criticize Wikipedia with a broad brush need to look up the meaning of the word "AUTHORity" and then kindly STFU.

     

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    Steve Smith, Aug 4th, 2009 @ 12:47pm

    Re:

    Articles on a particular subject generally have links to the source material. On an article on space flight for instance, there might be 20 sources.

    There might be. Or there might be zero. Or there might be twenty, all of which are fansites maintained by fourteen year olds. Or they might be NASA-affiliated, but the sources might not reflect the content that they're nominally supporting.

    Wikipedia is not reliable. But "not reliable" is not the same thing as "useless", in most contexts.

     

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    CptMystic (profile), Aug 4th, 2009 @ 12:50pm

    Re: Wikipedia accuracay

    "Wikipedia is actually very good on technical subjects - because only people with the right background will post there."

    Right, because ALL people with technical backgrounds are inherently trustworthy and would never possibly get a fact wrong. Give me a break.

    Some of them can't even spell properly, even as simple a word as "accuracy."

     

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    Ryan, Aug 4th, 2009 @ 1:04pm

    Re: Re:

    I think you may be overvaluing the veracity of other sources. You might think CNN to be a pretty believable source, for instance, but when I read an article about a subject I am well-versed in, I sometimes notice a ton of inaccuracies. Additionally, CNN is much more biased and confined to the worldviews of its writers, and it is more difficult to ascertain the premises of their articles and thus to evaluate them with personal knowledge. Naturally, this is even more true for many other sources as well. Even Wikipedia articles that are well-cited may be less accurate than those written as original material by knowledgeable sources, and I find it amusing when another article cites an incorrect Wikipedia contribution as fact, which is then used as a source to prevent it from being corrected.

    The point is, readers should recognize that all sources are potentially untrue. Wikipedia has the advantage of being constantly reviewed by thousands of editors and being immediately enhanced with new information. With so many editors, it is also generally much deeper and well-rounded, being less prone to the biases of individual writers. Even most of the intentional vandalism is readily apparent as false.

    I think that to take Wikipedia as a whole as less "reliable" than less open sources is to give to much credit to the latter.

     

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    brian, Aug 4th, 2009 @ 1:41pm

    wiki

    wikipedia + an intelligent human being = a fairly resonable conclusion

     

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    Anony1, Aug 4th, 2009 @ 2:02pm

    @Steven Smith:

    There might be. Or there might be zero. Or there might be twenty, all of which are fansites maintained by fourteen year olds. Or they might be NASA-affiliated, but the sources might not reflect the content that they're nominally supporting.

    Wikipedia is not reliable....

    CAN YOU READ? I repeat: Can you read? The point of my post (and this blog post)was to assert that a statement such as "wikipedia is unreliable" or "wikipedia is reliable" are illogical. Since any given Wikipedia article, like any given Encylopedia article, may have many sources, or few, as you point out, each article must be judged on it's own merits. The best that can be said is that "Wikipedia CAN be reliable" as a source, since it is, AGAIN (CAN YOU READ?!)multiple sources. Also for many subjects, wikipedia is FACTUALLY proveable to be a reliable source. Then again my suspicion is that you're just trolling in which case, kindly STFU.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 4th, 2009 @ 2:18pm

    Re: Wikipedia accuracay

    i think it works best on the articles with obscure names high up in a field... the only people who traffic those pages tend to be those with a decent amount of knowledge in that field.

    the problem arises in general knowledge topics that get lots of traffic from people who don't have any expertise in the field. there are idiots who add/edit things based on total hearsay ("my friend said that if you're driving 20 mph over the speed limit, and 3 other cars are also driving at the same speed as you, you can't get a ticket"), political wanks, and then there are even bigger dumbasses who edit real world topics based on "physics education" they obtained from silicon valley and hollywood.

    the articles on firearms/wars are the best because you get the anti-gun political nutjobs/pacifists trying to villify guns/wars, the clueless moviegoers and gamers trying to look cool talking about head shots and sniper kills in some specific war, and then the rare guys who actually know something ... pointing out that the guns in the game weren't even invented at the time of that war, and that barrel shrouds and free float tubes don't conceal the gun better, or give it more ammo, or make it shoot faster, or make it shoot farther.

    moral of the story: the article on pantothenic acid is probably a lot more accurate than the articles on abortion, copyright, or assault rifle.

     

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    Josh - To common a name. This is me. (profile), Aug 4th, 2009 @ 2:25pm

    Re: Re: Wikipedia accuracay

    Yes but only English Majors worry about just little things as grammer and spelling. Those of us in the real world are more concerned about the overall value of the information. And if there are tiny spelling/grammer errors, so what. That's not that big of a deal. We deal with real world people all day long that may not have the best spelling or grammer but that know a whole hell of a lot more than we do in a given technical area.

    For example, I would not trust my brother to write his own resume becuase he struggles with writing the english language. But if I need some work done on high power electrical equipment, or some power poles climbed and hardware replaced, well then I'm calling him. And by the way, they have to have a working knowledge of high level math to intimatly understand what is going to happen if the cross A with C. And not just that it may be something bad.

     

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    Kevin, Aug 4th, 2009 @ 2:28pm

    I'm not surprised that 50% (or more) of doctors use wikipedia in their line of work. I work in a medicinal chemical research lab and I commonly use wikipedia to refresh my memory/get quick tidbits of information about various reagents/reactions. Obviously it would be silly to take everything at face value, since wikipedia is not infallible (wiki-vandalism is common, people uploading wrong information unknowingly is probably just as common). But it serves as a wonderful STARTING point for research, get a general idea of what is going on, and then move on to more dedicated academic journals. I think that those people who automatically dismiss wikipedia as useless are just as short-sighted as those who blindly assume all written words on the internet are true.

     

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  18.  
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    Nathania Johnson, Aug 4th, 2009 @ 3:28pm

    I'm not surprised or scared that doctors look info up online. My primary care physician has looked stuff up on her blackberry right in front of me. I can't expect any human being to remember all of that information.

    Plus, if you've ever had a doctor come in and listen to your symptoms and then leave and come back and give you a diagnosis (or possibilities), then there's a good chance they looked something up. Yes, even in the days before the interpipes. They would go look stuff up in their medical books.

    What I do expect from doctors is for them to have the training to diagnose a problem. When I look symptoms up on WebMD, sometimes I get back hundreds of possibilities. Doctors' knowledge and experience should help them to narrow that list down.

     

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    William Jackson (profile), Aug 4th, 2009 @ 5:48pm

    Google and particularly Google Scholar make it much easier to find the article that you read a few months ago "somewhere" but can't quite remember all of the details. My partners and I use it multiple times a week. In fact, just yesterday, two of us were just discussing how useful Google was and how much it would have helped in residency.

    As mentioned above, historical, we checked reference books, which are usually 5 to 10 years behind current practice due to the time it takes to publish. Journals are more up to date, but have not been as easily searched and read. May doctors would tear our interesting articles to file them in a cabinet for "easy" reference, but the filing system was frequently inadequate.

    Now with Google we can search many more journals than before. The only problem is DRM which sometimes prevents us from reading what appears to be the prefect article for a particular case, but all we get is the abstract. The rest is locked behind a pay wall.

    Also as mentioned above Wikipedia is a great starting point for some of the less common esoteric diagnoses and to refresh ones memory.

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 4th, 2009 @ 11:10pm

    Re: Wikipedia accuracay

    Wikipedia is actually very good on technical subjects - because only people with the right background will post there.

    Huh? The information on WP is supposed to all come from other, authoritative sources. Even if you have a technical background in some subject, you aren't supposed to post your own knowledge there directly. That's known as "original research" and is prohibited. That applies even If you are an world renowned authority on some subject. Instead, you are supposed to get a respected publication to publish your information. If they do, then that information can be brought into Wikipedia using that source as a citation.

    In these areas it has the advantage of being reviewed and edited by many hands.

    Yes, but be wary of any information that someone may have slipped in that isn't backed up by a valid reference.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 4th, 2009 @ 11:16pm

    Re: Re: Re: Wikipedia accuracay

    And by the way, they have to have a working knowledge of high level math to intimatly understand what is going to happen if the cross A with C.

    Bunk. While I suppose they may exist, I've never known a lineman with a "working knowledge of high level math". It certainly isn't required.

     

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  22.  
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    Steve Smith, Aug 5th, 2009 @ 12:43am

    CAN YOU READ? I repeat: Can you read?

    Only when you type in all caps.

     

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  23.  
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    Facty, Aug 5th, 2009 @ 12:56am

    Re:

    Conventional news sources such as TV and newspapers are ridden with errors. The thing is, they don't admit so - they claim they are very reliable sources written by professionnal.

    In reality, much of the news is assembled from agency dispatches processed by interns or young inexperienced journalists. Journalists may be required to cover many topics, so a single journalist may cover "the reliability of Wikipedia" one day, and something totally different the other day.

    The amount of errors in science-related articles is staggering, with mistakes that would not be tolerated in highschool.

     

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  24.  
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    mhenriday (profile), Aug 7th, 2009 @ 6:53am

    Bashing Wikipedia is popular in certain circles -

    my impression is that this is often done by those who feel a distinct need to distinguish themselves from hoi polloi. Admittedly, one would not be advised to use Wikipedia to learn the details concerning the lives of certain political figures - in particular from the USA - as such articles can often more closely resemble hagiography than biography - but in general, I find that Wikipedia entries are at least as accurate and impartial as those in more traditional encyclopaedias, not to mention what we read in newspapers.... Henri

     

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  25.  
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    kariana, Aug 21st, 2009 @ 8:00am

    Re: Trustworthy?

    no its not because people get on there all day an add new stuff to wikipedia...its not true at all

     

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