Wikipedia is a resource used by people everywhere, from middle school students to college students (and it’s safe to say that researchers also use it from time to time). But the blessing and the curse of Wikipedia is that everyone can edit it – that means that a massive amount of articles can be written and managed, but it also means that inaccurate information can easily sneak in articles. A group of German researchers set out to test that and see just how accurate Wikipedia really is.

“[The] lack of a formal editorial review and the heterogeneous expertise of contributors often results in skepticism by educators whether Wikipedia should be recommended to students as an information source. In this study we systematically analyzed the accuracy and completeness of drug information in the German and English language versions of Wikipedia in comparison to standard textbooks of pharmacology”, researchers write.

Image via Wiki Commons.

Indeed, it seems like a good place to start. They analyzed articles on drugs, drawing every piece of relevant information, as well as references, revision history and readability. Their conclusion is that the accuracy of drug information on Wikipedia was 99.7%±0.2% when compared to the textbook data. However, even though the articles were very accurate, they weren’t fully complete. Scientists rate the completeness of articles at 83.8±1.5%. However, completeness had a huge variation, ranging between 68.0% and 91.0%. This difference shows that Wikipedia is not always the best resource to draw complete information from, but it always provides over two thirds of the whole story. Furthermore, from the drug information missing in Wikipedia, 62.5% was rated as didactically non-relevant in a qualitative re-evaluation study.

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This is crucial especially in areas which change a lot, such as pharmacology. The fact that you have this huge resource from which you can draw massive amounts of information is remarkable. The fact that it is open source, ad free, community driven (though moderated) and still manages to have an almost perfect accuracy is simply amazing! The only problem I have with this study is the sample size. Of course, it’s a tough analysis to conduct, but 100 drugs is still not enough to draw definite conclusions.

Journal Reference: Jona Kräenbring, Tika Monzon Penza, Joanna Gutmann, Susanne Muehlich, Oliver Zolk, Leszek Wojnowski, Renke Maas, Stefan Engelhardt, Antonio Sarikas. Accuracy and Completeness of Drug Information in Wikipedia: A Comparison with Standard Textbooks of PharmacologyDOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0106930