When Dr Google just isn't enough
June 18, 2007 6:27 AM   Subscribe

posted by konolia (18 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Nice find. Bookmarking for my next hypacondriac freakout. :)
posted by nola at 6:33 AM on June 18, 2007

Great find -- thanks!
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 7:04 AM on June 18, 2007

I stared into the singularity this quarter. The lecture notes for medical neurobiology (neuroscience/neuroanatomy for first year students) at a top 15 medical school not only cited wikipedia, but quoted it extensively.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 7:07 AM on June 18, 2007

I was recently talking to a friend of mine, who works as a doctor in a mid-size hospital in Switzerland. I asked him whether he used the internet to research medical facts and joked about using the wikipedia for this purpose. Not only didn't he get the joke, but he also responded that he indeed frequently used the wikipedia. He was astonished to hear that anybody whatsoever could edit the wikipedia.

To his defense, I'll have to add though that he doesn't base medical decisions on these informations alone.
posted by Herr Fahrstuhl at 7:23 AM on June 18, 2007

The fear of allowing people to edit wikipedia reminds me of the fear of immigrants. "They could be anybody! Like terrorists!" OK, sure. You just keep using your dead trees handed down by God and meanwhile I'm going to get actual work done.
posted by DU at 7:31 AM on June 18, 2007

The point in my context (and the same as Herr Fahrstuhl's) is that people who think that they understand, but significantly misunderstand can edit. For example, the students. True, expert editors could correct these mistakes, but expert editors are busy working on their grant proposals.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 7:44 AM on June 18, 2007

No, I totally get it. Those brown people might have cooties, we need to keep them out.
posted by DU at 7:47 AM on June 18, 2007

No, I totally get it.

typical nerd hubris ... "i can code, i can rule the internets, so i can be an expert on anything"
posted by pyramid termite at 7:58 AM on June 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

No, I totally get it. Those brown people might have cooties, we need to keep them out.

Check it out: I can totally derail...

Nice find, but after a few random searches it seems a little light on content yet.
posted by scheptech at 8:04 AM on June 18, 2007

i can be an expert on anything

I believe the fear is that anybody can edit, not that everybody will.

In any case, let the facts speak for themselves: How did Wikipedia stack up against Britannica again?
posted by DU at 8:04 AM on June 18, 2007

I believe the fear is that anybody can edit, not that everybody will.

no, the concern is that inaccurate information will not be corrected ... a concern that all the cracks in the world about "brown people might have cooties" is not going to solve

How did Wikipedia stack up against Britannica again?

irrelevant - this isn't wikipedia
posted by pyramid termite at 8:08 AM on June 18, 2007

In my experience, looking up any symptoms or ailments on the internet invariably leads to the inescapable conclusion that I'm in the final stages of an incredibly invasive tumour.

With this in mind, I'm off to change every ache and pain I ever experienced into a symptom of "Cirrhosis of the Awesome".
posted by Jofus at 8:50 AM on June 18, 2007 [3 favorites]

Thanks, Jofus, my Dad will read that and it will do him some good. He apparently has every disease ever found, including some rare ones found only in places he's never visited.
posted by misha at 9:02 AM on June 18, 2007

True story: some biologists I work with get all excited about the idea of Wikiversity. They want to ditch textbooks altogether (not a bad idea in and of itself) and build within Wikiversity instead (whoa, hold on). The real problem is not that anyone can edit Wikipedia, but that Wikipedia gives you very little means to evaluate accuracy. When information is open to editing by anyone, and all you have to go on is a username, finding any truth at all becomes entirely dependent on your ability to sort the facts from the fiction.

The more controversy surrounding a topic (warranted or not), the more interest some people have in misinforming others, or the more specialized the training required to write accurately on a topic, the less reliable Wikipedia (like the internet in general) will be. For example, the evolutionary biology section of Wikiversity seems to mostly be written and edited by people looking for a place to create a battleground for an "evolution vs. religion" argument. Preexisting separate wikis aren't enough, apparently.

That's not to say there aren't accurate sources of information on the internet about medicine, evolution, global warming, and invertebrate taxonomy. Rather the signal to noise ratio is pretty low, and you're going to find a whole lot of pages of b.s. pretending to be authoritative for every accurate page of text you find. There's a great deal of information filtering and evaluating to be done, and most people are seeking information on the internet because they want an answer that is A) quick to find and B) outside their area of direct expertise. This mode of information foraging doesn't fit the environment in which people will find many kinds of information.

I love the internet. I use it to look things up all the time. But the more scientific, specialized, or "controversial" the information I am looking for, the more careful I am about where the information is coming from. If I'm looking for science in particular, I generally go to an organization or person rather than do a subject search across websites. It looks like AskDrWiki is similar to other encyclopedias that follow a peer-reviewed model that have come online recently. It looks like their editorial policy is still evolving and could use some more tweaking. Encyclopedia of Earth is a better example.
posted by Tehanu at 9:06 AM on June 18, 2007

DU writes "No, I totally get it. Those brown people might have cooties, we need to keep them out."

I think this is colloquially referred to as "not getting it".
posted by Bugbread at 9:27 AM on June 18, 2007

I'll give it a year. At that point it will either fade away, or get bought by Elsevier and then vanish behind a firewall, leaving nothing but scraps of PubMed abstracts.
posted by rolypolyman at 10:37 AM on June 18, 2007

To play devil's advocate a little, I believe Wikipedia articles are better sourced these days and those with extensive footnotes (which are more common today) would seem to offer a viable means to evaluate accuracy. Providing a means of evaluating the author(s) of Wikipedia articles, on the other hand, seems to be a bigger challenge. Ditto for providing best practice guidelines to the reader on performing said evaluations.
posted by christopherious at 1:03 PM on June 18, 2007

Excellent find konolia. Thanks.
posted by nickyskye at 8:56 PM on June 18, 2007

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