Bill Harvey: Astral Weeks
Author: Bill Harvey
Van Morrison was born in a gym and yet Jim Morrison was born in a van.
This clearly fallacious fact was always rolled out during the early years of Wikipedia as evidence of what an unreliable source such a crowd generated encyclopaedia was. Indeed, I remember balking at papers submitted for publication with references listed as web links to Wikipedia pages. However, that was some time ago and I think it is high time that cynics take another look at this resource.
There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, even after a cursory scan through when you next get the chance, you will see that entries are themselves referenced, usually with accurate citations, and are highlighted where further verification or detail is recommended. This is possible because of the multi-review structure that is in place for every entry and something that adds more tiers of input than many a refereed journal I can think of.
Who here has not yet been approached by online publications of apparently citable origin. I am constantly asked to contribute to EC Ophthalmology and yet, when I link to the latest issue, the second article is a ‘newsletter’ which is clearly an advertisement. And why should a journal trawl the internet for reprobates like me?
Secondly, bearing in mind the potentially inflammatory result of misinformation relating to certain subjects of political, theological and ethical matters, Wikipedia must have a more than robust editorial. I can think of certain papers (in fact, loads) in recent years in refereed journals where results have been interpreted through a fug of personal morality.
If still not convinced, its high prominence means Wikipedia is often the first, or one of the first, places viewed by our patients so an understanding of it is useful. Having recently been sent to a website claiming that raspberries have been proved to cure AMD, I know where I am happier for patients to get their information.
And I have not yet mentioned commercial influences…