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Wikipedia is already the world’s web doctor – so doctors and researchers need to make it better

Medical entries on Wikipedia are widely consulted across the world.

Health professionals have a duty to improve the accuracy of medical entries in Wikipedia, according to a letter published today in Lancet Global Health, because it’s the first port of call for people all over the world seeking medical information.

In our correspondence, a group of international colleagues and I call on medical journals to do more to help experts make Wikipedia more accurate, and for the medical community to make improving its content a top priority.

Use around the world

Ranked the fifth most-visited website in the world, Wikipedia is one of the most-read sources of medical information by the general public. It’s also frequently the first port of call for doctors, medical students, lawmakers, and educators.

Access is provided free of charge on mobile phones in many countries, under the Wikipedia Zero scheme. In developing nations, this has helped the site become the main source of information on medical topics. During the 2014 Ebola outbreak, for instance, page views of the Ebola virus disease peaked at more than 2.5 million per day.

Earlier this year, the site launched the free Medical Wikipedia Offline app in seven languages. The Android app has had nearly 1,00,000 downloads in its first few months of release. It’s particularly useful in low and middle-income countries, where internet access is typically slow and expensive.

All this makes Wikipedia’s accuracy vital because every medical entry on the collaborative online encyclopedia has the potential for immediate real-world health consequences.

A question of priorities

Given its model of allowing anyone to edit entries, Wikipedia is already surprisingly accurate, famously rivalling Encyclopedia Britannica. But even as the online encyclopedia matures, the accuracy of its medical content remains inconsistent.

The platform has historically struggled to attract expert contributions from researchers. Improving Wikipedia entries tends to be low on the list of priorities for doctors and other health professionals.

Finding time to write unpaid content in an unfamiliar format can easily lose out to more immediate career concerns. Doctors consistently work long hours with patients, and researchers tend to be busy applying for grants and publishing in academic journals.

The entry on stillbirth illustrates well why Wikipedia needs to attract more expert contributors. Every day, there are 7,000 stillbirths worldwide, but before my colleagues and I updated the Wikipedia page, it was was missing crucial information.

It didn’t mention key causes, such as malaria, and common complications, such as depression. Having the full picture of a medical condition is extremely important for effective health care. And it’s vital for patients as well. Knowing that depression is a normal side effect of stillbirth, for instance, can help women cope with the emotional fallout.

Similarly, accurate information on medication affects what doctors prescribe, what patients request, and what students learn.

Such important topics quite simply demand accuracy.

Possible solutions

While spotting the shortfall is easy, solving it will require the concerted efforts of multiple communities with unique strengths.

Wikipedia has historically struggled to attract expert contributions from time-poor researchers and doctors.  Garnet/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND
Wikipedia has historically struggled to attract expert contributions from time-poor researchers and doctors. Garnet/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Doctors and researchers can provide expert knowledge about complex topics; medical journals can leverage their infrastructure for robust peer review and indexing; Wikipedians can provide their experience in encyclopedic writing and technical expertise; and medical schools can encourage student involvement.

Simultaneously publishing peer-reviewed work in academic journals and in Wikipedia could benefit all participants. This would include both putting existing entries through academic peer review, and converting suitable journal articles into Wikipedia entries. Official recognition of authors’ efforts through their citeable publications by scholarly journals is an important reward for time-pressed contributors.

Peer review would ensure the quality of content, and for journals wanting to have an impact on public health, Wikipedia is the among the best outreach tools available.

Several scholarly journals have been exploring academic peer review of Wikipedia entries and more look to soon join them. Examples of joint-publishing include the Wikipedia articles for Dengue fever and the cerebellum, which have been reviewed and published by the medical journals Open Medicine and the WikiJournal of Medicine respectively.

PLOS Computational Biology similarly joint-publishes review articles in its journal and in Wikipedia for maximum impact. And, the journal RNA Biology requires researchers describing a new RNA family to also write a Wikipedia entry for it.

Embedding the new approach

Progress has been slow, but several independent ventures show how the attitudes of major players in the biomedical ecosystem are beginning to shift further, and take Wikipedia more seriously.

Cochrane, which creates medical guidelines after reviewing research data, now finds Wikipedian partners for its Review Groups to help disseminate their information through Wikipedia.

Medical schools are also getting involved in improving Wikipedia entries. Medical students at University of California, San Francisco, can gain course credit for supervised editing of Wikipedia articles in need of attention.

These and similar schemes can hopefully normalise Wikipedia editing within future medical community. And patients will ultimately be the winners. When it comes to health content, the deadline is now.

Thomas Shafee, Research Fellow in Biochemistry and Evolution, La Trobe University.

This article first appeared on The Conversation.

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What to look for when buying your first car in India

Hint: It doesn’t have to be a small car.

When it comes to buying their first car, more Indians are making unconventional choices. Indian car buyers in 2016 are looking for an automobile that is a symbol of their aspirations and sets them apart from the herd. Here are a few things you should consider when buying your first car:

Look beyond small cars

According to the JD Power India Escaped Study (2015), the percentage of new-vehicle shoppers who considered a small car reduced by 20% over three years—from 65% to 45%. Buyers are now looking at bigger, affordable cars and luckily for them, there are more choices available. Known as compact sedans, these cars offer the features of a sedan, are larger than hatchbacks and contain a boot. These sedans offer the comfort and features that once only belonged to expensive luxury cars but at a price that’s within the reach of a first-time car buyer.

Design and styling is important but don’t forget utility.

It’s a good idea to have a car that has been designed over the past three years and doesn’t look outdated. Features like alloy wheels and dual beam headlamps add to the style quotient of your vehicle so consider those. Additionally, look for a car with a sturdy build quality since Indian urban conditions may not always be kind to your car and may furnish it with scrapes and dents along the way.

Image Credit: Volkswagen
Image Credit: Volkswagen

Does it test-drive well?

In 2014, 35% of new-vehicle buyers researched vehicles when they were buying but by 2015, this number had risen to nearly 41% according to the JD Power study. While the internet is the primary source of research in India, the best source of information about a car is always a test drive. Listen to the sales person and read all online reviews, but test every feature to your satisfaction.

Where do you plan to drive?

Look for a car that’s spacious and comfortable while being easy to drive or park on our crowded city roads. Compact sedans are perfectly suited for Indian driving conditions. Some of them come with parking assistance and rear view cameras, rain sensors and front fog lights with static cornering that are excellent driving aids. If you plan to use the car for long drives, compact sedans that provide cruise control, a tilt and telescopic adjustable steering wheel and a front centre armrest would be perfect. On road trips with family members who usually pack more than necessary, extra elbow room inside and good boot-space is a blessing.

Is the model about to be discontinued?

Never buy a model that is going to be discontinued because it could result in difficulty finding spare parts. Buying an old model will also affect your resale value later. In 2015, according to the same report, 10% of shoppers considered newly launched car models as against 7% in 2013—a strong indication that newer models are being preferred to old ones.

Diesel or petrol?

Diesel and petrol cars have different advantages, and it’s best to take a decision based on the distance you plan to drive on a regular basis. While petrol cars are usually priced lower and are more cost effective when it comes to service and maintenance, diesel cars typically have better mileage due to higher efficiency and provide a smoother drive due to higher torque. Additionally, diesel is the cheaper fuel. So it makes more economic sense to buy a diesel car if you are driving long distances every day.

Most importantly, safety always comes first.

Look for a car that is built sturdy and pays extra attention to safety features like Anti-lock Braking Systems (ABS), side impact bars and dual front airbags. Safety is also a function of the design and features such as a galvanized steel body add to the strength of the build. It’s important to remember not to make trade-offs on safety for less important features when choosing variants.

Buying your first car is an important milestone in life. And the new Volkswagen Ameo has been designed with several first-in-segment features to cater to all the needs of a first-time car buyer in India. Its bold design and elegant styling along with state-of-the-art features like cruise control, reverse parking camera and sensors, and intelligent rain sensors set it apart from other cars in its class. Its safety features are also a notch above, with dual front airbags that are standard in every variant and side impact bars. A sturdy galvanized steel body and laser welded roof cocoon its passengers from harm, and its modern ABS, that is also standard in all variants, prevents the wheels from locking when you brake hard. A six-year perforation warranty and a three-year paint warranty ensure that the car body is protected from scratches and dents. The Ameo comes in both petrol and diesel variants. Check out all the features of the Ameo here. Also hear the experience of two first time car buyers in the video below.


This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Volkswagen and not by the Scroll editorial team.

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