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Can pharma companies edit Wikipedia?

Recently, I’ve received plenty of e-mails asking whether pharma companies can or should edit Wikipedia entries about their own products. Here is a quick summary of what the medical Wikipedia community thinks about that:

The Wikipedia:Conflict of interest guideline addresses this, while Wikipedia:Neutral point of view and Wikipedia:Username policy are also relevant.

Disclosure of COI is not required by any Wikipedia policy.

  • Some editors have voluntarily chosen to disclose a conflict of interest by including their employers’ names in their account names, e.g., all these folks from GlaxoSmithKline. More self-identify on their user pages.
  • Self-identification is a two-edged sword: You get points from most users for being honest, but a few will use it to harrass editors. See, e.g., User:James Cantor, a world-class expert on pedophilia, who has been chastised by a handful of (minority-view-holding) editors for not re-re-re-re-disclosing his “conflict of interest” every single time he edits certain pages.
  • Corporate IP addresses are highly traceable. An employee editing from the office should assume that s/he’s hung a big sign on the edit saying “I’m part of a pharmaceutical conspiracy”.
  • Some employers require disclosure, and a few believe it illegal for their employees to edit these pages. (I believe the idea runs like this: We are legally required to say only X about this product; if we change the Wikipedia page, we are legally required to say only X on the Wikipedia page; if the page says anything beyond X, then we’re in violation of the law.) So employees and contractors should check with their employers.

Wikipedia does not prohibit people in the pharmaceutical industry from editing articles. (WP:PAID failed) However, there are strategies that reduce conflict:

  • Vandalism = bad. As far as we’re concerned, anyone is welcome to fix it, even people who work for a pharmaceutical company.
  • Correct serious errors, but leave the fine points to others.
  • Propose sources and improvements on the talk pages.
  • Read WP:MEDRS, especially the bits about not paying too much attention to single studies.
  • Read WP:MEDMOS, especially the bits about not providing medical advice, instructions to patients, or dosage information.
  • Remember that Wikipedia is not a patient guide or drug formulary. Employees might be in a unique position to provide background and historical information, which we very much want. We’d love for every page about a drug to contain some information about its regulatory status around the world, its development, its manufacturing process, and its commercial history (e.g., which companies have worked on it and what its annual sales are).
  • Come to WT:PHARM to get help.

A new essay is being developed right now. See more details at Wikipedia:Conflicts of interest (medicine).

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12 Comments Post a comment
  1. See also the Digitas Health POV on this subject – http://db.tt/ZfI9EGj

    February 23, 2011
  2. One of the biggest impediments for pharma companies to correct or edit misinformation in any Wiki, whether Wikipedia, Medpedia or a Sidewiki, is fact that the Food and Drug Administration has failed to provide any guidance on the matter. During the public meeting held in November 2009 in Washington DC, the FDA solicited feedback from the public in particular areas involving the Internet, social media and medical product promotion. One of the areas explored was whether or not pharmas could be held responsible for what third parties do with their material in a space like a Wiki. To date, questions around that area have not been answered, which means that misinformation that might be posted about medical products can abound while the ability to correct it has been hobbled by the FDA’s inability to enunciate guidance.

    February 23, 2011
  3. This issue pertains to much of what’s on Wikipedia. People who have detailed knowledge about a subject, and possibly a financial, political, career or academic interest, are more likely to write about it.

    February 23, 2011
  4. I can tell you for a fact that some pharma companies are editing Wikipedia right now based on personal experience. I can’t divulge more than that except to say that how they are doing it is very conservative and very transparent (i.e., they are open about what they are doing in the wikipedia page discussions). These companies aren’t keen to broadcast to the world that they are doing this…yet. I know that at least one is planning on sharing what they’ve done, but I’m not sure when that may happen.

    Having watched what they are doing (as an outside consultant) and how they are doing it, I can say that I believe it’s the right thing. The information they are adding is completely objective (things like dosing information) and updating (new clinical trial data, indications, etc.). They aren’t deleting anything negative unless it can be supported with facts. In fact, they aren’t deleting anything themselves, but rather requesting edits be made by others, as they are playing it very conservatively. If you have a conflict of interest, Wikipedia’s written and unwritten rules say you shouldn’t edit a page, but rather make a request for edit in the discussion area. Editors (i.e., everyone) will decide if the page should be changed and they will make the changes.

    I think Digitas’ POV (above comment) is right on as far as guidance goes in this area.

    So, who’s going to be the first pharma company to announce they’re doing this?

    February 27, 2011
  5. boyunca tok tutacak
    sen ve abur cubur yemek sadece gerekli olanı verir
    senden uzak tutmak. Böylece daha kolay kilo, iştahınızı denge
    sağlar.izlanda yosun hapı

    March 3, 2011
  6. Sean Duffy #

    My company has written several wiki articles about molecules on behalf of pharma companies.

    In a few cases editors with lots of time on their hands figured out that the article in question was written by someone on our payroll and then figured that the molecule was marketed by one of our clients and then called us out on it.

    In every instance we simply asked the community if the article was unbiased and accurate or not. In all cases the flags were dropped and the article remained unchanged. I was impressed at the sleuthing and the self-correcting nature of the community.

    I think the hardest part for pharma writing about their own molecules is to have the writing skill and discipline to remain truly unbiased. If they can do that then they are probably the most qualified to edit articles about molecules they developed.

    March 10, 2011
  7. This raises a big issue of conflict of interest. Another point is that Wiki is a reference guide like many others – just use it as such.

    March 13, 2011

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Top Medical Social Media Stories of 2011: Month by Month « ScienceRoll
  2. Should Pharma Worry About Wikipedia Pages? | Health Expert Network

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