Free information, the internet and medicine

The image shows a small leaflet outlining the work of WikiProject: Medicine

This post was written by Vinesh Patel, a junior doctor and an alumnus of Imperial College, London

A new adventure for Wikimedia UK began this summer with a project in collaboration with Imperial College School of Medicine.

In a recent BBC article, Wikimedia UK highlighted the need for everyone looking for medical information to remember Wikipedia is simply an online encyclopedia, and nothing more.

A ganglion is a type of benign fluid collection that can form from fluid around tendons on your hand and some people used to claim it could be cured with a well judged thump with a Bible. However, evidence doesn’t support this practice. An encyclopedia with a similarly hard book covering would be judged by most laypeople today to be about as useful in solving such medical problems, and they would probably just see their doctor about a lump on their hand.Yet there seems to be a great tangle when the same information is put in an online encyclopaedia.

It is this tangle that is being explored by 3 groups of medical students, as they seek to edit selected Wikipedia articles within the field of medicine. 10 of them from different year groups are collaborating with senior academics to edit academic field they find interesting.

The format is they select a B or C class article from Wikiproject medicine and look to develop it over several months. They collaborate over several months to edit an article offline and then transcribe their work on to a WP page, having given notice they are going to conduct the edit on Wikipedia. One individual puts their work online after they . They receive help and guidance from senior academics. After putting their edits on WP they work with editors around the world to improve the article through normal routes of discussion on the talk page. The project is running from

The primary aim is to allow the students to develop their academic skills, but it is also hoped that the question of how free information on the internet is used in medicine will be given some practical answers. In future the program may be expanded to allow students to collaborate with students in developing countries. In fact, many students said the most inspiring aspect of the project is the potential to spread free medical information to their less privileged colleagues around the world, harnessing the possibilities of the internet.

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