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Three cheers for Wikipedia's cancer info! (Well, two and a half cheers)

June 1, 2010 |  1:34 pm

Encylopedia As it turns out, information on Wikipedia can largely be trusted, at least as it pertains to cancer. That should be a relief both to patients and to the doctors who care for them. The entries in the user-edited online encyclopedia often show up high atop search-engine results, and many users likely have taken their content at face value.

But that content's reliability has been in doubt. After all, it's created by users, not traditional "experts." ("Don't use Wikipedia," earnest eighth-graders in search of homework help are told.)

Now researchers at Kimmel Cancer Center at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia have done their own analysis of that content, comparing Wikipedia information on 10 types of cancer to information found in the National Cancer Institute's Physician Data Query.

The entries were solid, the researchers found, at least in terms of key points. Way to go, online writers and editors! But they were also quite dense. Tsk -- points subtracted due to lack of clarity, online writers and editors.

The researchers write in their study's abstract, to be presented at the current annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology: "Although the Wiki resource had similar accuracy and depth to the professionally edited database, it was significantly less readable. Further research is required to assess how this influences patients' understanding and retention."

Here's the abstract of the Wikipedia analysis; one of the researcher's comments, as presented in the university's news release; and the aforementioned Physician Data Query, a peer-reviewed cancer database.

Surely, no one needs help finding Wikipedia. But here's how it's created, worth reading now more than ever.

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: There's much to be said for traditional encyclopedias. Ease of updating isn't one of them. Credit: Los Angeles Times