A while ago, I published an open letter in which I asked pharmaceutical companies to name one of their employees who could make 100% transparent edits on Wikipedia entries related to their own products. Now John Mack, the Pharmaguy, posted some updates about new reports on the relation between Wikipedia and the pharma industry and he asked me what I think about it.
As I’ve been plenty of pharma companies since then assisting them in creating an efficient digital strategy, here is what I said:
“Since I announced my open letter for pharma companies, I’ve been in touch with several international pharmaceutical companies and while they all agreed my proposal was the perfect method for them about editing Wikipedia in a proper way, none of them seemed to be able to make the final required step for that. I’m still optimistic though as I know how much time it takes to run through such ideas in large companies.” – Bertalan Mesko, MD, Medical Futurist at medicalfuturist.com, @Berci
As a huge fan and a long-term administrator of Wikipedia, it’s a pleasure to spread the word about a new initiative which aims at finding volunteers to make important medical entries available in many languages.
Wikipedia is the most used health care resource on the Internet both by unique visitors and by pageviews. For all those interested in global health this is an opportunity to help bring high quality healthcare information to the world.
The effort is primarily concentrating on 80 top importance medical articles of global significance. Currently they are put together as a WP:Book in English at Book:Health care and in simple English at here. In the month of February 2012 these pages in English received a total of 10.6 million page views.
I would love to get your feedback on a project I just came across on Wikipedia, the WikiProject Medicine/Evidence based content for medical articles on Wikipedia. The organizer of the project is the same as in Cochrane Students’ Journal Club. Please sign up if you are interested in helping us out.
Wikipedia has been accepted world wide as a source of information by both lay people and experts. Its community driven approach has ensured that the information presented caters to a wide variety of people. An article from 2011 in the Journal of Medical Internet Research found that a significant number of experts and doctors consult Wikipedia’s medicine related topics.
Medical information is very dynamic and conclusions and recommendations are turned on their heads based on new findings. Taking this into account it is important to ensure that Evidence Based content is a part of any medicine related Wikipedia article. Such content should be authentic and reliable as people may use the same to make decisions that may end up having life changing consequences.
I was glad to see the formation of Wiki Project Med, a thematic organization first announced at Wikimania in 2012. This is a great way of Wikipedia moving forward in terms of medicine and healthcare. As an administrator since 2006, I will definitely run for board membership in the next election.
The organization will promote the development of medical content on Wikimedia projects. Methods to accomplish this will be via forming collaborations with other like-minded organizations, giving talks / lectures at universities and other organizations, working to develop greater access to the medical literature for Wikipedians, among others.
Mission: To make clear, reliable, comprehensive, up-to-date educational resources and information in the biomedical and related social sciences freely available to all people in the language of their choice. 
There was a study published in Nature in 2005 famously reporting that Wikipedia articles on scientific topics contained four errors per article on average while in case of the online edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica, three errors per article were found. Now here is a new minor study:
The study compared a sample of English Wikipedia articles to equivalent articles in Encyclopaedia Britannica, Spanish Wikipediato Enciclonet, and Arabic Wikipedia to Mawsoah and Arab Encyclopaedia. 22 articles in the sample were blind-assessed by 2 to 3 native speaking academic experts each, both quantitatively and qualitatively.
The small size of the sample does not allow us to generalize the results to Wikipedia as a whole. However, as a pilot primarily focused on methodology, the study offers new insights into the design of a protocol for expert assessment of encyclopedic contents. For our editor community and for the Foundation, which commissioned the study in 2011, it also offers evidence to inform the design of quality assessment mechanisms and quality metrics that may be used on Wikipedia itself.
The results suggest that Wikipedia articles in this sample scored higher altogether in each of the three languages, and fared particularly well in categories of accuracy and references.
John Mack invited me last week to participate in his newest podcast, this time focusing on how pharma could use Wikipedia. As a Wikipedia administrator, I tried to provide useful pieces of advice.
Bonus: 3 Charts That Show How Wikipedia Is Running Out of Admins
A few days ago, I published an open letter to pharma about employing a Wikipedian and that letter received quite huge feedback including hundreds of tweets and some interesting blog posts.
John Mack, author of PharmaGuy, invited me to participate in a podcast on the 17th of July:
Pharma does not have a stellar record when it comes to editing Wikipedia articles. See, for example, “Simply Irresistible: Abbott Tampering with Wikipedia Entries” and “Web 2.0 Pharma Marketing Tricks for Dummies.” So it’s no surprise that this raises a number of interesting issues that were hotly debated during a recent #hcsmeu Twitter chat. That discussion will be continued in a Pharma Marketing Talk podcast on Tuesday, July 17, 2012. You are invited to listen or call in with your opinions. For more information, go here.
Until then, you can fill in a short survey about this issue on his blog.
Based on the recent open letter sent to the Royal Society about employing a Wikipedian in residence, here is my open letter as a Wikipedia administrator to pharma following the discussion with Michael Spitz on Twitter.
Dear Pharma Companies,
The place of Wikipedia in the dissemination of medical information online is indisputable now. If you want your customers to access information about your products from the quality perspective and in the simplest way, you have to deal with using Wikipedia.
Based on the pretty negative past encounters between pharma employees and Wikipedia editors (pharma employees trying to edit entries about their own products in a quite non-neutral way), we advise you to employ a Wikipedia editor if you want to make sure only evidence-based information is included in entries about your own products. Appointing someone from within your company as a “spokesperson” in Wikipedia who would perform all edits on behalf of the company is an excellent way to update those entries.
For more details, please see our open access social media guide.
But basically, we, Wikipedians, are more than open to starting a discussion about this with you.
I’m looking forward to working together.
Dr. Bertalan Mesko
Recently, an interesting initiative has been proposed in the Medicine WikiProject (a group of editors dealing with the improvement of medical Wikipedia entries) and we would love to hear what you think about it even if you are not a Wikipedian. An excerpt from the announcement:
I am proposing a Wikipedia:Health Article Review Project (WP:HARP) in which medical residents, during their classes and at their instructor’s behest, use a template to review health-related Wikipedia articles on that article’s talk page. They would be doing this in small groups in about 20 minutes with no prior Wikipedia editing experience and with no support from an experienced Wikipedian.
This project would be advertised in a very popular course curricula distributed throughout the United States. I am presuming that medical residents ought to be able to read a health article and have valuable opinions on how the articles might be improved, and that they could share those opinions on the talk pages of articles with little difficulty if they were guided by a written tutorial at the project page, and that trying this project is unlikely to have a bad result even if unexpected things happen.