But it's the "not perfect" part that worries people in this risk-averse industry we call pharmaceuticals. The rub is the general
public and HCPs are regularly accessing occasionally inaccurate and potentially dangerous health information online. "The
combination of trust in Wikipedia and its vulnerability to both mistakes and author bias has caused concern..." say the IMS
Institute's "Engaging patients" authors.
Wikipedia itself makes it very clear that the information on the site is not necessarily accurate. At the top of its general
disclaimer page, in big, bold capital letters, it says "WIKIPEDIA MAKES NO GUARANTEE OF VALIDITY."
The page emphasises the fact that Wikipedia is an "open-content collaborative encyclopaedia," meaning that anyone with an
Internet connection can alter its content. The last sentence on the general disclaimer page says, "If you need specific advice
(for example, medical, legal, financial or risk management) please seek a professional who is licensed or knowledgeable in
that area." This doesn't seem to be putting off patients, carers and physicians turning to the site for health information.
It's what patients and practitioners do with this information that raises the prospect of Wikipedia becoming a public health
Can you trust a crowd?
As things stand, it looks unlikely that Wikipedia has the manpower (volunteer editors are 90% male) to fix this problem. Tom
Simonite wrote in the MIT Technology Review last year that the volunteer workforce that built the English-language Wikipedia peaked in 2007 at more than 50,000 people
but had fallen to about 30,000 in the middle of 2013. These are the active editors that are the only real defense against
vandalism, hoaxes, and manipulation.
In his article, "The Decline of Wikipedia," Simonite says problems with a "crushing bureaucracy" and an "often abrasive" atmosphere
deter the recruitment of new blood that could broaden and improve the service.
That doesn't mean that the Wikipedia community is ignoring the problem of unvalidated medical information. WikiProject Medicine,
a loose coalition of 500 volunteer editors, most with some level of medical or pharmaceutical expertise, has set out to try
to correct some of the problems with health-related content on English Wikipedia.
The group, including experienced medical editors, is aware of Wikipedia's shortcomings. Veteran Wikipedian Anthony Cole is
a participant in the group and says, "We are very conscious of our responsibility at or near the top of every search-engine
The work of the group centers on assessing and reviewing articles. Members are encouraged to improve articles against style
guidelines developed specifically for medical articles and add high-quality references wherever possible.
Wikiproject Medicine is currently focusing on 85 articles deemed to be of top importance, striving to get them to at least
Wikipedia's "B" standard, where the content is mostly complete and accurate without major problems. To date, Wikiproject Medicine
has achieved this for 80% of the targeted articles. It has also set a target for 80 up-to date "Featured Articles" (Wikipedia's
top quality ranking) and 300 "Good Articles," that have passed an official review.