I came across the above article in the Atlantic about a year ago, and it's taken me
all this time to come up with an opening to include it in my blog. Folks who read
Evidence eMended regularly know that I will frequently put in a link to Wikipedia
as a way to give interested readers an avenue to more detailed explanations. Why would
someone who preaches the value of evidence-based medicine also refer to a web site
that anyone (and it really is anyone) can edit?
Pinsker's essay really caught my eye; he very convincingly described instances where
hired guns attempted to alter medical content in Wikipedia to present products in
a more favorable light. The primary example he used involved the orthopedic procedures
of kyphoplasty and vertebroplasty, likely equivalent to placebo in efficacy for treatment
of vertebral compression fractures associated with osteoporosis according to the best
data available. In 2013, the medical editor for this Wikipedia page noticed that someone
had wanted to edit the comment that the procedures' effectiveness are "controversial,"
replacing that word with the phrase "well documented and studied." That's a big change
in the meaning of the sentence.
Long story short, some dogged detective work by the editor revealed that the source
of the edit was an employee of an orthopedic hardware company that sells devices used
for kyphoplasties. This employee subsequently complained to the editor that the Wikipedia
posting was "scaring prospective patients and insurance companies;" although not explicitly
stated by the employee, of course this bad publicity jeopardizes the company's profit
unwritten) policy in use of Wikipedia in Evidence eMended is that, for medical content,
I'll check out the veracity of the post on at least one other high-quality web site,
such as a professional society practice guideline or via original articles in the
In the past few weeks, I deliberately tried to use Wikipedia a bit more often than
I usually do, so I'd have some illustrations for this posting.
For example, on August 9 I linked to a page about comparative effectiveness research. That's a topic I try
to follow fairly closely, so it didn't require any extra PubMed searching. I thought
the Wikipedia post was concise, accurate, and didn't require a doctorate in statistics
to understand the main points. On August 16 I linked to Wikipedia's take on fee-for-service pricing, but this time I did check
with a few other sources for accuracy. Again, the page was concise and didn't require
an MBA to understand.
My favorite recent Wikipedia link, however, was on July 26. This illustrates my other use of Wikipedia, for the multitude of nonscientific,
opinion discussions of pop culture. This one in particular was to see if anyone actually
pays attention to the phrases I use (in this case, plagiarize) from popular culture.
I'm sure all the Beach Boys aficionados got the reference without my Wikipedia link.
Sometimes guys just wanna have fun while they blog.
So, use Wikipedia if you want, but, like any other information source, be sure to
verify the accuracy if the content is important to you. That's a key principle of