Same excuses

From Bertalan Meskó‘s ScienceRoll:

Ken Civello [of Ask Dr. Wiki] asked me whether a medical wiki created by experts could be more reliable than Wikipedia’s medical articles. Well, I don’t think so. Yes, of course, it’d be more reliable, but it’s not the point. Wikipedia’s medical entries are created and maintained by about a hundred editors (just some of them are physicians, academics). If those articles are well-referenced, then those should be reliable. It’s not a question of credentials, but references. Wikipedia articles must contain relevant information for laypeople.

This is an argument Bertalan has made before, that having references equals reliability. I have not been able to grasp this argument, so I asked:

This is a perspective I don’t quite understand, Berci. Should a doctor trust an article at AskDrWiki (or Wikipedia) as accurate because it has lots of good-looking footnotes?

He replied:

…do you think that a doctor should trust a Nature or a Newscientist article? Those have lots of good-looking references too.

So, we agree: Having references does NOT generate confidence in the authority of Nature or NewScientist either. But Nature and NewScientist have editorial policies that do generate confidence and give the product more authority.

Did I say that doctors must only trust these wikis?

Of course not. Neither did I. This is called a straw man.

Wikis are works in progress. Doctors must trust medical books and their knowledge. But if additional information is needed, then the properly referenced articles could be a source of information.

A couple of problems here. First, I didn’t ask what information seekers should do if they want MORE information. What I’m interested in is how they can be reassured that the information they’re reading is accurate. Second, I don’t think that any other publisher of medical information would say that it is okay if the information is inaccurate because information-seekers should be looking in other places. To say that it is okay for medical information in Wikis to be inaccurate because Wikis are works in progress is just an all-purpose cop-out.

How about some new arguments- or at least actually addressing the old ones?

Comments are closed.