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Why You Shouldn't Believe What Wikipedia Says About Drugs

The errors of omission in drug information found on Wikipedia, the online collaborative encyclopedia, can be dangerous, doctors say. While most of the details on what a pharmaceutical can do are accurate, it's the missing pieces that can cause harm – and some drug company representatives have been caught deleting information from Wikipedia entries that make their drugs look unsafe.

Dr. Kevin A. Clauson of Nova Southeastern University in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, did a comparison study of Wikipedia versus a peer-reviewed free Web site called Medscape Drug Reference, which people can use to research drugs and their effects. He and his team looked for answers to 80 different medical questions on both Wikipedia and Medscape. They found that while Medscape came up with answers to more than 80 percent of the questions, Wikipedia could only muster up answers to 40 percent. And often those Wikipedia answers were missing important side effect information, such as how the anti-inflammatory drug Arthrotec (diclofenac and misoprostol) can cause pregnant women to miscarry, or that St. John's Wort can interfere with the action of the HIV drug Prezista (darunavir).

Wikipedia has had problems with accuracy before when users input incorrect information or when people deliberately edit entries with misinformation, either as a prank or with a more serious agenda.

Still, Wikipedia's collaborative nature does allow for the community at large to offer edits and corrections, a point that wasn't lost on Clauson and his fellow doctors. After 90 days, they found the Wikipedia articles showed an improvement in their accuracy.

Still, they say for drug information people should go to or

So, we want to know: when you have a medical question, where do you look online? [Source: Reuters.]

Tags: accuracy, drugs, medicine, research, security, Wikipedia