Posted on October 9, 2014
Wikipedia is a great way to get reliable health knowledge and research into clinical practice even in low resource areas.
Wikipedia and its sister projects grow at a rate of over 10 edits/sec by editors from all over the world. Currently, English Wikipedia includes 4,610,645 articles and it is increased every day with over 800 new articles. This amount of data can be analysed in a huge number of ways. The best way to get an idea of the bigger picture is with statistics. I have always admired the breadth and scope of Wikipedia where a good page can get more than 100,000 views per month and where anyone can contribute who has valid information to share.
Wikipedia is written collaboratively by largely anonymous Internet volunteers who write without pay. Anyone with Internet access can write and make changes to Wikipedia articles, except in limited cases where editing is restricted to prevent disruption or vandalism. Users can contribute anonymously, under a pseudonym, or, if they choose to, with their real identity. The fundamental principles by which Wikipedia operates are the five pillars. It is:
Wikipedia is superior to sharing on social media because your content is saved and hundreds of millions of viewers can access it without a log in or fee. The content is constantly updated and anyone can help. Junk science or bad information is quickly edited out and the content is good quality overall with an emphasis on open access publicly available resources that any reader can download freely. It is used by people in medicine, science and education and Wikipedia mobile access is made free by an agreement between Wikipedia and Mobile carriers in developing nations. In my view it is a true democratization of science and medicine.
We often say that the patient is the most under utilized resource in medicine. I would say that if the patient is first, Wikipedia is a close second! I was surprised at how simple it is to improve or add to a page and how encouraging the other Wikipedians are to contributors. You can access a how to guide and get started or call/email Students 4 Best Evidence for help.
To put this in perspective I recently co-authored an article on Neurodegeneration Behind Bars for a peer reviewed journal and after one month only has about 840 views. Altmetric a social media measure for journals ranks this in the top 88% of articles written and yet it is not even 1% of what views could grow to if it was published in Wikipedia. Unlike the journal and peer review there are multiple friendly but exacting editors who will thank you for a timely edit and sometimes even supply you with a better reference than the one you started with.
I joined up for a session as a representative of ThinkWell where we engage the public in every stage of the research process. Frankly, I was totally terrified I would not be able to manage the complexity of IT skills to contribute and yet I came away with being able to apply my learning. I received a guide to continue with a cheat sheet with the process carefully tabled. My contributions generated thanks from Wikipedians where I did small and easy tasks such as updating a reference. The same opportunity to contribute is available for all who sign on to make a difference with Wikipedia.
What stopped me from contributing to Wikipedia before? I was afraid I could not master the technology or take the time to add one more project to my growing list of what I want to do next! It turns out that after a single afternoon in a Wikipedia workshop I was able to edit several pages, report a bad medicine site as not worthy of continued inclusion and make new Wiki friends.
Wikipedia and healthcare are an excellent conduit to share open access health knowledge with the world. It costs nothing to publish in Wikipedia but time, the co-production of expertise and the willingness to work with people online who you have never met before to co-produce robust healthcare information.
Information about Wikipedia and links thanks to http://Wikipedia.org