Wednesday, March 28, 2007


Rod of AsclepiusSomeone just asked me what I thought about AskDrWiki. They may not wish to be identified (if you do, just leave a comment on this thread), so I won't name them, but here's what I think.
I tend to find that the majority of my colleagues (and students) are influenced by media reports of Wikipedia forgeries and horrors and will not be swayed by the data (including mine) which says that Wikipedia is at least as accurate as most peer reviewed sources.
Students are particularly concerned that the peer review aspect of Wikipedia is carried out by people who are "not qualified" in their opinions (err, so I'm not qualified I guess).
Other colleagues have expressed the view that using wikipedia for student assessment in the way that I do is problematic because "next year they won't have anything to write about" - i.e. they foresee the end of knowledge approaching (I don't)!
The problem I have with askdrwiki is the compartmentalization of knowledge.
At the UK Blackboard users conference last December, it seemed that every Staff Development type in the UK had … started their own staff development wiki … to which one or two people had contributed (no institutional brownie points), before the project had, well not died exactly, just tailed off … after wasting significant amounts of staff time.
So my problem with askdrwiki is: what's wrong with Wikipedia? Compartmentalization of knowledge among limited user communities is a good way to ensure these projects, well, not fail, just get ignored. Sure, Wikipedia has it problems, but IMO, that means the onus is on us to get in there and fix them

Now where are my institutional brownie points for doing that?

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  1. What's wrong with Wikipedia?

    Really nothing, except one thing. A Wikipedia article mustn't contain too deeply medical information as it's created for just laypeople. Doctors need specific data that a Wikipedia article can't contain.

    That's why we need specific medical wikis. The only problem is (as you've prefectly mentioned) some of them are working on the same subject, but not together. And alone, they have no chance.

  2. So medics are the High Priests which must guard the public from the Sacred Medical Secrets?
    Sounds kinda familiar ...

  3. It's not elitism. In case I'm a layman, then I don't really care about angiography details. I just want to know what that method is like. That's all.

    Deep medical information is irrelevant for Wikipedia.

  4. AJ,

    I really appreciate you keeping the sanctity of privacy in email, but I don't mind being identified :) I think discussion at this juncture is extremely important to helping us moving the field forward in a productive way.

    With respect to your question "Why an Expert Medical Wiki?" It's actually an easy answer. It's the same reason we use Harrison's medical encyclopedia instead Encyclopedia Britannica. For you, it would be the reason one would buy your Medical Virology text book instead of heading to read what you write at Wikipedia. They see you as an expert because you've published a focused text and actually invest money in that body of information because they see that text as specialized reference. With the scope of wikipedia (of which I am constantly in awe), it's just not possible to present or maintain that focus. Therein lays the lack of respect your colleagues and peers may give to your voluminous contributions thus far. Also, as problems arise as they inevitably will, a specialized medical wiki community will be able to address them more quickly as they arise. We have stated before that we are open to a multidisciplinary approach for contribution to Ask Dr Wiki. I honestly believe that contributions from medical students, PhDs, nurses, respiratory therapist, etc are just as important to provide a comprehensive medical body of knowledge.

    As you probably realize, peer review in the current medical literature means that your article or chapter is sent to 3-5 'experts' who serve as the gatekeepers. Also, with many texts there is a several year lag between authorship and publication. One of the most exciting aspects of an expert wiki, is the power of current and rapid peer review to overcome these limitations.

    I agree collaboration is very important to our future success. That's why we are now and will continue to reach out for your input. A specialized medical wiki is inevitable and needed. Ken and I both think that it needs to be an open access and free body of knowledge and are completely committed to it's success. While others may have failed, I think with the level of input and growth that we have seen thus far that it is on the right track.

    Remember, wikipedia probably seemed pretty compartmentalized when it only had one article. As word gets out and we continue to grow, askdrwiki will overcome this issue.

    Thanks so very much for your time and feedback.

    Brian Jefferson