Feeling a bit sick? Maybe you checked your symptoms on Wikipedia before seeing a doctor. And maybe your doctor checked Wikipedia before seeing you. Up to 70 percent of physicians and medical students admit to using Wikipedia as a reference, too.
But Wikipedia can be shockingly wrong. Researchers who compared peer-reviewed articles to the Wikipedia pages for the 10 most costly medical conditions in the U.S.—including heart disease, back pain and osteoarthritis—discovered incorrect information on nine out of 10 pages. Only information on concussions appeared to be accurate. The study is in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association. [RT Hasty et al, Wikipedia vs peer-reviewed medical literature for information about the 10 most costly medical conditions]
Earlier research suggested that Wikipedia is roughly comparable to peer-reviewed sources. A study in the journal Nature in 2005 found Wikipedia was about as accurate as the Encyclopedia Britannica, even about science topics. But that analysis looked only at 42 entries among the millions on Wikipedia. Since then the site has exploded, now including tens of millions of entries. The new results suggest we should all take online info with a grain of salt.
—Dina Fine Maron
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]
[Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group.]