Edits by medical students to a number of Wikipedia pages on skin conditions resulted in those pages receiving millions more page views. This demonstrates the value of expert input to the online encyclopedia, according to the people behind the editing project.
“We tried to make the articles more readable, while adding more relevant information,” Olivia Hutton, BS, a medical student at the University of Colorado (CU) School of Medicine who led the project, said in a press release. “The articles we edited have been viewed 10 million times since adding the new information.”
Details on the project were published in a research letter in Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (Mar. 28, online ahead of print).
The authors note that medical entries on Wikipedia receive 10 million views daily, with the top 500 skin-related articles achieving 16 million views during August 2018 alone.
In an effort to make those articles more complete and accurate, in 2014 Wikipedia partnered with the evidence-based medicine organization Cochrane, recruiting and training editors to share high-quality Cochrane Review evidence in Wikipedia entries. This project was part of that ongoing process, with five medical students trained to enhance articles on skin diseases. Their training included learning Wikipedia editing, and mentoring from an experienced Wikipedia medical editor. Each student was assigned a list of articles to improve.
The project was supervised by Dr. Robert Dellavalle, a professor of dermatology at the CU School of Medicine.
Hutton said the trainees improved 40 skin-specific articles on Wikipedia through adding paraphrased conclusions and background information from 60 Cochrane Reviews.
The 40 edited entries received millions more views. The top five most viewed articles dealt with psoriasis, leprosy, cellulitis, melanoma and molluscum contagiosum.
“Criticisms of Wikipedia include concerns over the quality of shared content,” Hutton said. “It is important to ensure that Wikipedia’s content is evidence-based, unbiased and up-to-date. We have shown that a small Wikipedia editing initiative has the potential to share evidence-based information with many people.”
Dr. Dellavalle, who is also a joint-coordinating editor of Cochrane Skin, said the students’ work with Wikipedia in this regard “is the most expansive provision of public health dermatology information in the world.”
The next step, he said, is to recruit more trainees, improve skin-related Wikipedia content in other languages and make further improvements in articles to increase accuracy and understandability.