Update: Don’t miss this update which shows AskDrWiki taking seriously critiques from libraryfolk and using them to improve AskDrWiki’s authority.
(Also be sure to check out the List of Medical Wikis)
SUMMARY: Uneasy with information websites policed by people with little expertise, scientists are creating their own online encyclopedias. But are they accessible enough to supplant Wikipedia,
News@Nature 13, 231 – 233 (01 Mar 2007) News
Best part of the article: Great comment from Dean Giustini.
“The Wikipedia model is simplistic for medicine,” says Dean Giustini, a University of British Columbia medical librarian. “There’s something to be said for the wisdom of the crowd, but that doesn’t supplant the wisdom of the expert.”
Worst part of the article: Lousy caption for a graphic.
Second opinions: Websites run by medical experts, such as Ask Dr Wiki, may be accurate, but are often written in language inaccessible to the average user.
First, Not all Wikis are intended for broad, populist contribution and consumption. That’s Wikipedia’s model. Specialized disciplines use specialized language. The caption seems to imply that the use of specialized language is a flaw, when in fact it is a feature. This is especially weird because the author seems to understand this in the rest of the article.
Second, Ask Dr. Wiki may be accurate, but given that they don’t have the necessary controls in place to make sure that only accurate information is posted, it just as well may NOT be accurate. The caption says Ask Dr. Wiki is “run by medical experts,” which implies that the content is expert. The text of the article calls Ask Dr. Wiki “a doctors-only wiki similar to Ganfyd.” Here’s the thing: it isn’t. Unlike Ganfyd, they don’t even try to restrict access to physicians-only.
It took me all of two minutes to register an account and add the word “poop” to the Gastroenterology page.
Juvenile? Yeah, but it makes the point. Medical information is not like other kinds of information. If you get Stalin’s birthday wrong from a bad edit in Wikipedia, no-one gets hurt. Wrong information in a health information resource, whether for health professionals or consumers, can do great harm.
Because Ask Dr. Wiki tries to follow the Wikipedia model, it was a failure the moment it started. It can be at least partially redeemed, but only if it’s administrators actually start restricting contributions to qualified clinicians and have some sort of editorial oversight and/or peer review.
Near as I can tell, PubDrug is doing it right, and Ganfyd is at least trying.
The rest of the medical Wikis are not to be trusted. Edit: It is clearer and more accurate to say that a Wiki for medical information that does not have these controls should not be trusted by any responsible health professional or healthcare consumer. I can’t claim to have critically examined (or even identified) all medical wikis.
As Dean has said, there’s nothing wrong with the Wiki technology for medical information, but the model we’re accustomed to from Wikipedia will not suffice.
Other posts on Wikis for health information
Alternately, you might like to see the list of ALL posts about Wikis
(Thanks to Dean Giustini for pointing this article out to me).