The Clinician's Responsibility in Internet Research
When it comes to scientific research these days, it can be difficult to discern the truth. Between media reports taking one finding out of context and widespread misinformation all over the internet, it can seem impossible to get the information you need to provide the best care to your patients.
As clinicians and leaders in the oral-systemic movement, it’s not only essential that we keep up with the latest in research and treatments, it’s critical that the information we put into practice is both objective and verifiable.
Below you’ll find an article about the dangers of Wikipedia and other sources that may appear well-vetted but whose content is not necessarily controlled or peer-reviewed. When using Wikipedia or any such site for your research, please consider the following:
- These sites are great for initial research, but make sure to find primary sources for any claims made.
- Watch out for sensationalist claims and other signs that the article is publicity driven.
- When examining scientific studies, make sure to investigate the study’s aims, methods, and sample size—a study of 4,000 people carries more weight than a study of 40, and self-reporting can lead to less-than-reliable data.
- Consider who funded the research.
- Pay attention to the wording of the article: Is it objective, factual, and from a trustworthy source?
- Are you able to find the claims on other reputable websites or publications? Try to find multiple sources for the information.
- Read the wording of results and conclusions very carefully, particularly when discussing outcomes.
The Rise and Fall of Wikipedia
First in Internet Searches; Last in Reliability
Anyone who uses the Internet to search for information is very likely to be familiar with the Wikipedia site. Wikipedia is very often among the first results that pop up on queries like, "What is the population of Kazakhstan?" or "How many French speakers are there in the United States?" To questions like this, with little or no commercial impact, and no scientific or political controversy surrounding them, Wikipedia sometimes offers decent answers.
But venture into natural healing or alternative medicine and the answers become totally skewed in favor of corporate medicine. Naturally, Big Pharma is one of those entities willing to pay to control the flow of information. Those pages are not identified as being advertising or propaganda.
This phenomenon is not limited to health topics. Here is a link to one of the "Pay for Play" controversies: http://www.cnet.com/news/corruption-in-wikiland-paid-pr-scandal-erupts-at-wikipedia/
Wikipedia's credibility among serious researchers has always been very low. It is hardly surprising that college professors across the board disallow citations from Wikipedia in students' papers.
Years ago, the NY Times reported that Middlebury College had banned Wikipedia references: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/21/education/21wikipedia.html?_r=0
A list of links to articles about schools and colleges banning Wikipedia for unreliability: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Schools_and_colleges_banned_WP_in_2007-2008Isn't it ironic that this entry is found at Wikipedia . . . and information about orthomolecular physician Robert F. Cathcart, MD, has been deleted? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Articles_for_deletion/Robert_Cathcart
Other nutritional physicians have also gotten the ax at Wikipedia: http://www.orthomolecular.org/resources/omns/v06n18.shtml
This writer and many others in the field of alternative medicine and natural healing have experienced Wikipedia bias personally when contributing well-documented, carefully researched articles to the site, only to have them be radically altered and deleted, by anonymous "editors," then being banned from further editing or contributions. This is impossible to reconcile with a free flow of information.
And it can be verified. At Wikipedia, all past history of page edits are saved. Edits can be viewed by clicking on a tab on the page in question called "View History" right near the top of the page. It also shows the name of the person making the edit, if he was logged in. Each page has its own history attached to it, and that can be viewed.
Toeing the line
It did not take long for corporate America to wake up to the fact that the Internet was a powerful and democratic source of information, and large numbers of users were using it to research questions that were not addressed by the advertising-funded mainstream media. As people turned more and more to the Internet for this information, Wikipedia grew like wildfire.
At first, it was interesting to see uncensored information flow through the site, and even contribute to it. Then corporate America realized that Wikipedia, and similar sites, were distributing information they had carefully and thoroughly suppressed in the media, and set about correcting that omission. Soon, Wikipedia entries about natural healing, holistic medicine, and other subjects began to resemble publicity blurbs from Monsanto, or Merck, or the NIH. Contributors are supposed to be anonymous, "volunteer" editors were supposed to be both anonymous and neutral. But it was clear that for certain sensitive subjects, this was far from the case.
Additions to articles at Wikipedia that went against the corporate line were swiftly edited out, and replaced by corporate-friendly advertising blurbs. Writers who posted the offending material have been banned by the ostensibly neutral and unbiased editors, and the information reverted to the bad old days of censorship.
Wikipedia's way or the highway
Wikipedia's founder ridiculed a petition by 8,000 people to have a more robust discussion of alternative medicine, saying in part: "No, you have to be kidding me. Every single person who signed this petition needs to go back to check their premises and think harder about what it means to be honest, factual, truthful. What we won't do is pretend that the work of lunatic charlatans is the equivalent of 'true scientific discourse'. It isn't."http://www.businessinsider.com/jimmy-wales-petition-response-2014-3
Other comment on unethical use of Wikipedia and suppression of reportage: http://thenextweb.com/insider/2012/10/13/wikipedias-dark-side/#gref
Numerous examples of Wikipedia bias and hypocrisy: http://drleonardcoldwell.com/2015/03/24/total-hypocrisy-wikipedia-sues-nsa-while-censoring-truth-and-promoting-corporate-propaganda/
Readers used to be permitted to rate a Wikipedia page as to whether it was "trustworthy," "objective," "complete" or "well-written." A "Rate This Page" survey box was to be found at the bottom of each page. This option appears to have been removed. http://orthomolecular.org/resources/omns/v07n06.shtml
Whitewashing the drugs
Here is Wikipedia's page on chemo: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chemotherapy . Note that it minimizes negative results; never mentions the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center's study that finds that chemotherapy makes cancer much worse; doesn't get into negative effects until far down in the article; nowhere in the article does it mention the word "safety"; and "effectiveness" is almost glossed over. It does, however, list the revenues from the top ten chemotherapeutic agents from 2013: they total $37.47 billion dollars. That is just in one year.
Here is Wikipedia's page on Lipitor: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atorvastatin There is no mention of improved survival (of course, there is no increase in survival) in the article; the word "effectiveness" does not appear, and the word "efficacy" refers only to the drug's cholesterol-lowering property. Nothing on increased longevity; liver damage is mentioned lightly; but the economics are noted to be "sales of over $125 billion over 14.5 years." This made it the best-selling drug ever, with no long-term survival improvement shown. Why is this not mentioned?
Wikipedia has frequently appealed for funding from its readers. Due to its increasing uselessness as a reliable information source, I believe the major contributors are sure to be the corporations that corrupted the information flow in the first place. After my experiences with the site, and that of other contributors with information about controversial subjects, I would never use it as a resource for any but the most mundane queries. And I'd be suspicious even of those.