Misinformation Technology - The Responsibility of Medical Experts in the Wikipedia Age
by Ron Sherman MD, MSC, DTM&H and Lynn Wang, BA
Warning: Information ahead. Read responsibly. Consume with caution.
In this age of information technology, we all have ready access to an abundance of information and data. But not all the "facts" are true, and some of what is true might be skewed to support an author's agenda. I was reminded of this while reading the Wikipedia entry for "Maggot Therapy."
Before I go any further, let me confess that I am generally a fan of Wikipedia. I use it as a quick reference for a topic that I know little about. But the articles within Wikipedia articles are not peer-reviewed in the same way that scientific journals are peer-reviewed. This makes Wikipedia especially susceptible to ambiguity, error, bias, and even manipulation.
This week, a colleague alerted me to a statement he came across in the "Maggot Therapy" entry of Wikipedia: "The debridement of necrotic tissue using maggots or other methods have not been proven to provide medical benefit compared to no debridement."1
Clearly this statement is not correct; debridement can be life-saving. Was this misstatement simply a result of translation difficulty or a lack of medical knowledge? Was the author trying to express that debridement has never been shown to speed wound healing? Or was this a statement simply copied from a non-authoritative source in the popular literature?
Before jumping to conclusions, I checked out the supporting citations offered by the author of this statement. Sure enough, both cited articles addressed the association of debridement with faster wound healing. But wait! One of the supporting articles actually concluded that "There is some, if limited, evidence to suggest that the use of a specific debriding agent is beneficial for wound healing..."2 In other words, the Wikipedia author's statement that "debridement...[has] not been proven to provide medical benefit" is contradicted by his or her own supporting citations.
At this point, I reviewed the entire "Maggot Therapy" Wikipedia entry, as well as the history of edits made to this article. I was shocked to see that some of these edits included falsities frivolously inserted throughout the article. I was equally shocked to see large blocks of detailed study reviews, previously contributed by other authors, replaced with short unfounded statements such as "Two European clinical studies show, that healing cannot be expected by maggots."
All of us should take seriously our responsibility to correct errors and teach responsible reading. Misinformation such as that contained in this Wikipedia article confuses readers, maligns the reputation of all other contributors, and uses Wikipedia as a platform for promoting falsehoods. Wikipedia is not reviewed by experts when we, the experts, do not review and improve it. Most of us teach responsible reading to our students. We should take that responsibility to the next level by correcting inaccuracies in the literature, if and when we find them. We all must read responsibly, consume information with caution, engage our minds and check the facts.
Have you seen misinformation like this on Wikipedia or elsewhere? If so, what have you done about it? How do you protect yourself and others from misinformation?
1. "Maggot therapy." Wikipedia. Wikipedia, n.d. Web. Last accessed 30 Apr. 2013.
2. Bradley, M., N. Cullum, and T. Sheldon. "The debridement of chronic wounds: a systematic review." Health Technology Assessment 3.17 (1999): i-78 Print.
About The Author
Ron Sherman MD, MSC, DTM&H has led a long career at the forefront of biotherapy, pioneering the development of medicinal maggots for over 25 years. He is now retired from his faculty position at the University of California, but continues to volunteer as Director and Board Chair of the BTER Foundation, and as Laboratory Director of Monarch Labs.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author, and do not represent the views of WoundSource, Kestrel Health Information, Inc., its affiliates, or subsidiary companies.