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By Sage Ross and Jarry1250

Toxicologists say Wikipedia better than mainstream media on chemical risk

According to a survey of American professional toxicologists (summary, full results), 45% rate Wikipedia as "accurate" in portraying the health risks posed by chemicals, while Wikipedia overstates risks according to 50% of respondents and understates them according to 5%. Among media sources, Wikipedia came in second in accuracy only to WebMD, which 56% of responding toxicologists consider accurate; national health magazines (10% said "accurate"), television news (3-5%), national newspapers (15%), news magazines (12%), and even public broadcasting (33%) are all seen as considerably less accurate than Wikipedia. These results are part of a wide-ranging survey of 937 members of the Society of Toxicology conducted by the Statistical Assessment Service (STATS) and the Center for Health and Risk Communication, at George Mason University.

On a scale of 1 to 5, in which 1 indicates "strongly understates", 3 indicates "accurately states", and 5 indicates "strongly overstates", Wikipedia averaged a score of 3.5, the same as The Pew Charitable Trusts. This is slightly on the side of overstating risks when compared with government sources and professional bodies (3.0–3.3), but better than other media sources (3.8–4.3) and much better than environmental organizations (4.1–4.5). Industry-linked organizations such as the American Chemistry Council and the PhRMA were seen as understating chemical risk (2.3–2.4).

The survey also sought toxicologists' opinions on a range of other issues related to chemical risk. While most toxicologists seem to agree that the media and activists tend to overstate chemical risk, the survey found that opinion among toxicologists varies considerably when it comes to the risk posed by individual chemical and sources of chemicals; one in three toxicologists see food additives as a significant risk, one in four see cosmetics as a significant risk, and just over half say pesticides and endocrine disruptors pose significant risks.

The summary of the results, which were released on 21 May, include a reaction from Wikipedian Andrew Lih, who also blogged about the results with respect to Wikipedia. Lih and another media commentator conclude that it is the story-driven nature of journalism which causes the mainstream media to overstate chemical risk so badly.

Doctors rely on Wikipedia for medical info

A survey of American physicians finds that almost 50% of doctors who use the Internet for professional purposes use Wikipedia's medical articles. That so many physicians rely on Wikipedia is surprising, given the existence of freely accessible professional medical information sites. Naomi Freundlich of The Health Care Blog comments:

The survey of 1900 physicians, conducted by Manhattan Research, reports that 10% of doctors not only use Wikipedia, but also edit. If accurate, the survey results indicate that 1 in 5 physicians who use Wikipedia for professional reasons also edit; this is a significantly higher proportion than the typical rule-of-thumb estimates of the overall reader:contributor ratio in interactive media websites.

EU parliament members consult Wikipedia on legislative issues

A survey of Members of the European Parliament finds that 65% of MEPs turn to Wikipedia at least twice per week for information related to their legislative work. The survey, conducted by Fleishman-Hillard Brussels, found that Wikipedia was nearly as popular as online newspapers and almost twice as popular as blogs. Detailed results are available from the EP Digital Survey homepage.

The high rate of Wikipedia usage is perhaps unsurprising given another finding from the survey: 93% of MEPs "use search engines daily to understand legislative issues".

Catherine Crier lawsuit

Catherine Crier, a former judge and prosecutor from Dallas, Texas who went on to a career in television is suing a John Doe who anonymously edited her Wikipedia entry. According to Robert Wilonsky of the Dallas Observer, Crier is suing over a number of false claims: that she has "been a murder suspect, a shoplifter, she's served jail time, she's been disbarred". The offensive details in the edits, which were traced to an IP from Richardson, Texas, were allegedly taken from a 2007 Dallas Morning News article about a different person, and the name was changed to tar Crier's reputation.

Obscene edits to children's book article

Some obscene vandalism to the article Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (a children's book) caught the attention of some Australian parents and the Sydney Morning Herald this week. "Parents warned of Wikiporn risk", reports the Herald. The vandalism, which added violence, rape, and other sexually explicit details to the plot summary, was only visible for about an hour, but the book is on the reading list for the Premier's Reading Challenge and has been getting about 400 page views per day in recent weeks.

The New South Wales Parents Council is advising parents to supervise their children's Internet usage.

BBC Radio 4 program Heresy pokes fun at Wikipedia

The question of whether to trust Wikipedia and other online information sources was explored in the BBC Radio 4 comedy talk show Heresy this week. The episode can be listened to here; the relevant segment begins at around 19 minutes 10 seconds.

Presenter Victoria Coren begins the segment commenting: "Sadly, false information is put up on Wikipedia by saboteurs who frankly should have better things to do with their time. Luckily, it's then taken down by a team of dedicated, round-the-clock, voluntary moderators who frankly should have better things to do with their time." Defending Wikipedia, guest David Mitchell replies "Wikipedia has become like a shortcut to a joke about it being rubbish, and that's not fair, because most things on Wikipedia are completely true... and also, it's worth remembering that no reference work - no book at all - is necessarily true... You should question everything you read."

The segment also purports to test the accuracy of Wikipedia by verifying surprising alleged facts about the show's guests (Mitchell, Euan Ferguson, and Clive James) that appear in their Wikipedia biographies.


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  • It's good to see Wikipedia's reputation growing. Doctors and Toxicologists trust is significantly and David Mitchell is amazing. More people should be that smart. Yes, question EVERYTHING you read. Not just Wikipedia. - Mgm|(talk) 08:56, 26 May 2009 (UTC)[reply]
Wikipedia is a very valuable tool. It is a unique, never-before-possible project that will always be ongoing, as it should be. Knowledge and exploration will be part of humanity as long as we exist. It is good to see that people are beginning to see its value. It is after all relatively easy to test it's veracity if you know what to look for.Celsius100 (talk) 03:27, 3 July 2009 (UTC)[reply]


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