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Ear to the Ground

Half of Med Students Study With Wikipedia

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Posted on May 22, 2011
Flickr / Nojhan

The somewhat unsettling results of a recent study of 186 medical students suggest that roughly half of all surgeons, general physicians and other doctors-in-training view Wikipedia as a reliable source of medical information and regularly use it to prepare for exams.

To ensure the accuracy of research results and educational materials, every serious academic community enforces a rigorous peer review process. While Wikipedia’s content is regularly evaluated by a team of editors, the site’s tag line, “The free encyclopedia that anyone can edit,” is less than assuring in this instance. —ARK

MedPage Today:

Although study groups and preparation guides proved more popular methods of studying, 46.77% of 186 med students surveyed said they referred to the publicly maintained Wikipedia as a primary source of knowledge, Maryam Namdari, DO, who practices in Philadelphia, and colleagues reported at the American Psychiatric Association meeting here.

... Although 46.77% of students said they relied on Wikipedia, Namdari said she thinks this is an underestimate because students may be less likely to admit to using the website on a survey.

... And, she explained, students who cited Wikipedia as a study aid did not rely solely on it—83.9% of Wikipedia users also turned to question books while, 65.51% used Wikipedia, question books and Up-to-Date.

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Anarcissie's avatar

By Anarcissie, May 23, 2011 at 10:07 am Link to this comment

Wikipedia isn’t supposed to be a primary, fundamental source for any sort of information, except maybe about itself.  If people are using it that way, it’s misuse.  The same is true of any other encyclopedia.

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RenZo's avatar

By RenZo, May 23, 2011 at 6:22 am Link to this comment

Sasha is wrong and a bit too taken with herself [“prestigious medical school on the East Coast”] to be scientific about the issue. As Anarcissie said, it hasn’t been proven that Harrison’s Principles of Medicine [or Sabiston’s Surgery or Mandell’s Infectious Disease, or Bates’ Physical Diagnosis, etc.] is better for learning than WikiP. I also agree with whomever pointed out that the reporting here is marginal; I barely, if at all, understand the original study’s objection to WikiP, or its methods of investigating the hypothesis.
The essential, if questionable, superiority of Wikipedia lies in its hyperlinked-up cross referencing alignment. While Wikipedia may not provide the depth of detail on subject x, it does link subject x (section a1d2) with subject z (section q8t3), and allow (even promote) the immediately subsequent (almost simultaneous) reading of interrelated subjects. Learning occurs by linking and coding, which processes, I think, are assisted by this immediacy.
[PS my medical school was less prestigious, but I learned everything I needed to also]

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By Sasha, May 23, 2011 at 1:23 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This is such poor reporting that it’s funny.  I went to a prestigious medical
school on the East Coast, where, when we suspected a classmate was BS-
ing, we’d ask if they got their info from wikipedia.  As a med student the
depth of information is such that wikipedia is unsuitable.  One is required
to use multiple resources at once-anatomy of the inner kidney,
pathophysiology on a gross and cellular level, and a chart of how a
particular disease affects blood pressure.  If you think wiki can offer all this
simultaneously you must be using a fancy new beta version that no one
else has access to.

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Anarcissie's avatar

By Anarcissie, May 22, 2011 at 2:31 pm Link to this comment

The administration of Wikipedia isn’t exactly anarchistic.  If it weren’t for a good deal of internal control, it would be as full of spam, trolling, and stupidity as Usenet became.

However, I have to take exception to the unspoken assumption of the above article, which is that other sources of information may be superior to Wikipedia.  That has yet to be shown.  The one study of accuracy I know about showed that Wikipedia was about as accurate at Britannica in the area of science, and W. certainly covers more ground. (

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By ckaren, May 22, 2011 at 2:24 pm Link to this comment

Wikipedia is free.  And that makes it a better study
aid than all the medical journals priced for highly
paid specialists.  It may not be so in other countries,
but here the average text book is over $100… who can
afford that?

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By usk0, May 22, 2011 at 11:50 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

So how many contribute to the collection?

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By Miko, May 22, 2011 at 10:08 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“the site’s tag line, “The free encyclopedia that
anyone can edit,” is less than assuring in this

And yet it works.  The Establishment Left has made the
mistake of thinking that only highly centralized top-
down approaches can give us the results we want. 
Wikipedia proves what the anarchist Left has been
telling the Establishment Left for decades: free and
open decentralized community-based systems work just as
well, if not better.

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