Published: 21 March 2022
Adam Harangozó, NIHR’s first Wikipedian in residence explains how the NIHR has joined forces with Wikimedia UK to disseminate health and care research using Wikipedia.
Simply put, Wikipedia is where people look for information. Currently there are Wikipedias in 314 languages. The English language Wikipedia is the largest, with over six million articles and nine billion page views per month as of December 2021.
The prominence of health and care research in media and social media during the pandemic has not only highlighted the importance of research but exposed deep seated problems around people’s relation to and trust in the evidence it generates.
Wikipedia is one of the most visited health resources on the internet: its medical articles have been viewed nearly two billion times in 2021. Studies have found that even 50 - 70% of doctors in the UK consult Wikipedia for health care information, and it is the most used resource by medical students. So Wikipedia is one of the first places people look for information about conditions, treatments or drugs. For many it will be the only place they go.
The past two years of concurrent pandemic and infodemic - the overabundance of information and the rapid spread of misinformation relating to covid - raised burning questions regarding the access to reliable information, health literacy and the need for a better and more inclusive communication with the public to counter misinformation. A common concern about Wikipedia is its perceived lack of reliability. It’s true that articles can be edited by anyone - but this does not mean that anything and everything is accepted. The Wikipedia community maintains detailed policies and guidelines to ensure the quality of content. One of its core policies requires that all statements are based on and verifiable through reliable, published sources. There are additional guidelines specifically for editors of medical topics.
Wikipedia's medical pages are also monitored and constantly improved by WikiProject Medicine, a group of experienced Wiki editors; volunteers mostly composed of medical professionals.
Bridging the gap
People need access to vital research findings in a language they understand in order to make informed decisions about their health. This requires research institutions to bring their work closer to people. Some would say this requires a culture shift in science.
Wikipedia editing is open to everyone. The site’s policies around editing are in many ways similar to academic writing yet they require a somewhat different approach. To serve as a bridge between the two formats, and help to make the collaboration smooth and impactful, the role of Wikipedian in Residence (WiR) was created and used by institutions such as the British Library, Cochrane, Cancer Research UK and now the NIHR.
In my role as WiR, I will be exploring the opportunities for NIHR to share the research it funds through Wikipedia. The project will explore how different parts of the NIHR can contribute long-term to Wikipedia, how professionals can make their research more visible and accessible, and how patients and the public can be involved in editing it. The project's foundations will be provided by the accessible summaries of key research findings on the NIHR Evidence website but we invite any interested individuals and organisational parts to join us and we will be actively seeking to make connections all over the NIHR.
The NIHR has already embarked on this path with their progressive programmes of working with the public and patients and providing open access to studies. Contributing to Wikipedia fits perfectly to the direction where NIHR and science in general is heading.
If you’d like to learn more about how to contribute to Wikipedia drop Adam a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read coverage in The Scotsman newspaper about NIHR's Wikipedian in Residence.