17

Sometimes I keep getting negative reactions/comments, because my answers contain links/sources to Wikipedia.

Few examples:

Usually Wikipedia summarise the claims by pointing to the right studies directly, so I think sometimes it's better to link it there, instead of linking directly to many different studies (which can become old or obscene after some time) and what's worse, they can contradict other studies after some period of time so at the end it's difficult to manage and somebody will call it as cherry-picking the sources.

So I think pointing to some main source which constantly evolve it's better idea.

It relates to What are reliable sources?, however this is specifically question about Wikipedia.

Therefore, is pointing to Wikipedia is fine and it should be treated as a reliable source?

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    I would say it depends on how the linked WP article is sourced. It can be excellent, bad, or anything in the middle. – Shlublu Apr 15 '15 at 17:12
  • @Shlublu I think if the information is incorrect or out-dated at the Wiki level, it should be corrected there then. – kenorb Apr 15 '15 at 18:26
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    @Shlublu you cannot judge that without reading the Wikipedia sources and comparing what they actually say to what the Wiki article says they say. And once you've done it, you can just go ahead and cite them directly. – rumtscho Apr 15 '15 at 18:40
  • +1 for source which constantly evolve – Ooker Dec 14 '15 at 7:33
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    Related on Academia SE: Are there instances where citing Wikipedia is allowed? – Ooker Mar 17 '19 at 6:27
13

I’ve been using Wikipedia here and there for links to terminology that not everybody is likely to be familiar with. For instance, I was writing this answer just now and trying to avoid using Wikipedia in light of this Q&A. There are decent peer-reviewed references already supporting the substance of the answer, but I wanted to link to something for «Haldane Effect» and «Hypoxic Respiratory Drive» just in case anybody didn’t understand them, wanted to read a bit more, and was too lazy to use Google themselves. I managed to find a non-wiki link for «Haldane Effect», but I’m not sure it’s any better than Wikipedia. I did link to Wikipedia for «Hypoxic Respiratory Drive».

Given that we allow links to all sorts of non-peer-reviewed stuff on here (see my rant here for more on how I don’t think these are optimal as the primary references backing an answer), Wikipedia often provides a concise (quasi-peer-reviewed) summary of background concepts or terminology. I don’t have a problem using it like that. I agree with the other answer that it is not appropriate to use Wikipedia as a reference for the main claims in the answer.*


*The other answer mentions how Wikipedia is not appropriate in an academic setting. I agree. The sorts of things I’m using it for would not require a reference in an academic setting. I just think it’s friendly to use them when the audience is more diverse like this.

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    Not too long ago, the Washington Post ran an article titled An Education in the Dangers of Online Research, and while it doesn't address the issue of using Wikipedia on SE, it does state that professors don't like it for college students. I've found too many inaccuracies to use it myself for medicine (or example, the cardiac output section), though for basic concepts it's fine. If someone only links to Wiki, I have to wonder if it's correct. – anongoodnurse Apr 17 '15 at 0:34
  • @anongoodnurse, @ Susan, However, if an untrue-but-backed claim is on Wikipedia, other editors (the whole world) would see it and edit it away accordingly eventually. Contrast this with us directly quoting sources, there's no way to get the "peer view" of how reliable those backed claims are. In the case of robustness and preservation, Wikipedia is surely more robust because it can be edited. For example, if a new research come up that contradicts the previous claims, there's a higher chance that Wikipedia would be updated when compared to the dated answer on SE. – Pacerier Jun 3 '15 at 22:00
  • @Pacerier - more robust doesn't guarantee that it will be definitely be corrected. All I can say is that as a doc, knowing what I was reading, and also running down sources from links on this site, I found too many mistakes to trust it. The only time I use Wikipedia now is if it puts something nicely in layman's terms, never as support for an answer. – anongoodnurse Jun 3 '15 at 22:32
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No, it is not. It has never been considered a reliable source in other quality-concerned communities, and universities frequently ban it as a source even for undergraduate papers.

Wikipedia is the result of anonymous non-specialists interpreting and filtering primary studies. In some cases they are even subject to malicious misrepresentation of facts and hoaxes. It contains many errors, intentional or unintentional. Some of them are quite subtle and, especially when embedded in true facts, very hard to notice. And especially on controversial topics, which are abundant in health, they can't enforce the neutrality they strive for.

Of course, all of these points are also valid for this community - it will use the same method (interpretation of primary sources by nonspecialists) and suffer from the same problems. But while it is hard enough to deal with it, it becomes much larger if we are using unreliable secondary sources instead of peer-reviewed (or otherwise reputable) primary sources.

See also Are there instances where citing Wikipedia is allowed? for a description of how it is handled among academics, who are generally the group most concerned with the reliability of sources.

update Also see an example of a study which assessed the accuracy of medical information on Wikipedia, in this case information on drugs:

Of the 20 categories of information assessed, a mean of twelve (range, 8–16) categories were present in each of the 20 Wikipedia articles. Categories most frequently absent were drug interactions and medication use in breastfeeding. No article contained all categories of information. Information on contraindications and precautions, drug absorption, and adverse drug events was most frequently found to be inaccurate; descriptions of off-label indications, contraindications and precautions, drug interactions, adverse drug events, and dosing were most frequently incomplete. Referencing was poor across all articles, with seven of the 20 articles not supported by any references.

I have seen similar claims on the quality of Wikipedia from other sources - it is inaccurate and poorly referenced. So, it cannot be considered reliable.

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    Maybe it is true in academic and scientific circles however I think if people start mixing 10-20 studies all together and interpreting them, it could be sometimes less reliable than just pointing the links to Wiki page (where the edits are peer reviewed and backed up by reliable sources). If certain Wiki page is not reliable (which states its neutral point of view), it can be always corrected. – kenorb Apr 15 '15 at 18:44
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    The edits in Wikipedia are not peer reviewed, they are noticed (or not) by users who may or may not have sufficient knowledge about the matter discussed. This is very different from a peer review, where a researcher's contribution is not corrected, but scrutinized by people doing research in the same area. Also, how do you know that the sources in Wikipedia are reliable? Anybody can cite any source there, or no source at all. You are basically saying that you are trusting the quality of Wikipedia articles, which is generally viewed as insufficient. See my edit too. – rumtscho Apr 15 '15 at 18:49
  • Changing our reliable sources to direct studies (instead of Wikipedia) won't give us more credibility than the Wikipedia it-self, so practically it doesn't change anything. I'm not saying to trust Wikipedia, the same as you can't trust the studies, as they can contradict each other as well. – kenorb Apr 16 '15 at 10:31
  • From my experience, I've edited Wiki articles many times and I had lot of arguing with mods, because they didn't want to accept my changes, despite my sources were based on the reliable books. So I think people care there about the reliability there. Wikipedia is written from a neutral point of view (NPOV) therefore it's representing significant views published by reliable sources, so it's not like anybody can write anything from their personal POV. It's moderated quite well. – kenorb Apr 16 '15 at 10:36
4

Does it make you feel reliable when you read it?

I think this is the key point to trust a source on the internet. In my thinking, there is no different between Wikipedia and Stack Exchange. They both have:

  • Content provided by users, edited by users, discussed by users
  • Users are anonymous, but can leave a note about them if they want
  • Strict moderation

So, if you trust the content here in Health, I think it is logical to trust Wikipedia. Do you trust the content here in Health?

Now, this may make you angry that the only thing we can believe is our conscience, and that's subjective. But that's how the way it goes. How can you know that a paper is wrong without checking it by yourself?

My simple trick is flipping a coin. While the coin is in the air, the answer will pump in your mind.

enter image description here

But I think there is another easy way to do. If you are about to introduce terminology only (say Haldane effect), then Wikipedia is advocate (and quickly since it's will be the first result when you google). But if you are about to give a statement (e.g. Haldane effect is only appear in women) (this one I make so I don't have any backup), then you may want to cite another source than Wikipedia.

That's also how you treat TED talks, even when you see the creators. Are TED presentations academically credible?

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3

All Wikipedia articles on medical topics are subject to this policy, which basically says that everything must be based on third party secondary review articles, primary research articles are not allowed. This policy is rigorously enforced for all topics that fall within conventional medicine.

Problems with strictly enforcing this policy mainly happens on pages about alternative medicine. This happens because Wikipedia can have a page on any topic provided it is sufficiently notable. So, if some witch doctor cure is popular in Africa, one cannot say that just because it is a medical topic one cannot have a page about that topic. Any claimed health benefits must be presented as mere claims, so in the end it is not all that unreliable, but it won't necessarily be based on secondary review articles or any medical articles for that matter.

So, Wikipedia's articles on conventional medical topics are usually very reliable as judged by rigorous scientific standards, the articles on alternative medicine are often less reliable, as they tend to be written from a less rigorous scientific point of view.

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