But I repeat myself…(on Wikipedia and Medical Information)

A few days ago, Berci Meskó posted at ScienceRoll more of his advocacy for Wikipedia as a credible resource for medical information. Berci argues that if Wikipedia has increased external links and increased references, it must be seen as having increased credibility.

This isn’t this first time Berci made this fallacious argument, and it isn’t the first time I’ve been really annoyed by it.

For examples, see this post (read all the comments, too) written in response to his MedScape interview (requires free registration) and this post from a little more than a week later.

It needs to be said again and I implore any healthcare bloggers (especially MedLib Bloggers) reading this to repeat it on their own blogs:

Having lots of references does NOT equal accuracy, credibility or authority.

6 thoughts on “But I repeat myself…(on Wikipedia and Medical Information)

  1. That’s why I didn’t say “it must be seen as having increased credibility”. I wrote:

    “For me, it proves that Wikipedia is still improving regarding the number of references”

    And it is. I didn’t say Wikipedia is now reliable and credible. I only said it is improving in this aspect.

    You should focus on my conclusion:

    “Citizendium, the online encyclopaedia that only selected editors, professionals can edit, is, obviously, more reliable than Wikipedia, but Wikipedia is far more comprehensive than Citizendum. So both should serve as an additional source of information, but never as your last source…”

  2. Berci-

    Just above, you wrote:

    “I didn’t say Wikipedia is now reliable and credible. I only said it is improving in this aspect.”

    This is again a straw man. I did not accuse you of saying that Wikipedia is now reliable and credible. I accused you of repeatedly arguing that there is a direct relationship between the number of citations in resource and the credibility of that resource. You DID say this in your post:

    “Second, I’d like to show you how Wikipedia is improving in the aspect of credibility.”

    “Why do I say bravely that Wikipedia is improving in the aspect of credibility and reliability? As I tried to be objective, I chose some of the first entries in the List of causes of death by rate article and determined the number of references and external links in each article now and a year ago.”

    You’re inarguably saying that more references and more external links mean that Wikipedia’s medical information is more credible. You ARE equating references and external links with credibility.

    You continue to do this even though you yourself have admitted the fallacious nature of this argument.

  3. Your expressions are exaggerated now. I’ve never said something like “direct relationship”.

    If I put references into my article, then it is improving in the apsect of credibility. But not only the number of references decides whether an article is reliable or not.

    If I said “because of the growing number of references, Wikipedia is reliable now, you would be right.

    You put words into my mouth.

  4. I don’t put words in your mouth, Berci. Let’s look at your quotes again:

    “Second, I’d like to show you how Wikipedia is improving in the aspect of credibility.”

    “Why do I say bravely that Wikipedia is improving in the aspect of credibility and reliability? As I tried to be objective, I chose some of the first entries in the List of causes of death by rate article and determined the number of references and external links in each article now and a year ago.”

    Berci, you’re clearly, unquestionably correlating more citations with more credibility.

    As noted above, you have made this argument repeatedly. Instead of defending the argument or revising it, you use straw men or accuse others of being unfair.

    A greater number of citations is NOT evidence of greater reliability. You have repeatedly said that it is (this would be the very definition of a direct relationship). To point out the fallacy of this argument each time you make it is not semantic trickery.

  5. I’m confused here … given the plethora of undocumented health and medical information on the internet, one of the reasons I document biomedical research and list other source references in my articles is to demonstrate to the reader that the information discussed is reliable. Isn’t information presented with source material more credible than information provided without? Doesn’t documentation of references provide some assurance for the reader (in the form of verifiability) that the information presented is accurate?

    I agree with you that Wikipedia should be the starting point for research of a medical topic, not the endpoint. However, after reading your article, my impression of the point you’re trying to make is that wiki information isn’t reliable because anyone can edit it. Is the argument here that a reference list doesn’t establish credibility or that, because Wikipedia is editable by anyone, there is a question regarding the reliability of the information presented?

  6. Hi Walter. I believe both things, but my point in this item is the former. I thought the last line of post made that fairly clear.

    I’ll formulate it a few more ways for clarity’s sake.

    • A reference list doesn’t establish credibility.
    • More references does not equal more credibility.
    • Anyone can add footnotes. To count them only provides statistics on how many footnotes there are.

    You may not have read the article also linked to above in which I first mentioned the problem with this argument:
    http://davidrothman.net/2007/03/27/same-excuses

    This was linked in the post above thusly:

    and this post from a little more than a week later.