Wikipedia is a wealth of information - written and edited by non-experts without professional oversight. Despite that, crucial information about cancer is as accurate as a science journal, says a study.
Researchers from the Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson have found that cancer information found on a wiki was actually similar in accuracy and depth to the information on a peer-reviewed, patient-oriented cancer web site. There is one caveat, however: they found that the information on the peer-reviewed site was written in plainer English.
They compared the cancer information found on Wikipedia with the information found on the patient-oriented section of the National Cancer Institute's Physician Data Query (PDQ), a comprehensive peer-reviewed cancer database.
"There are a vast number of web sites where patients can obtain cancer information," said Dr. Yaacov Lawrence M.D., assistant professor of Radiation Oncology at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University. "The purpose of this study was to answer one question: Is the cancer information on Wikipedia correct? Reassuringly, we found that errors were extremely rare on Wikipedia. But the way information was presented on PDQ is more patient-friendly."
For both web sites, inaccuracies were extremely rare, and the depth of coverage was same. But the PDQ site was notably more readable: whereas PDQ was written at a level suitable for a 9th grader, Wikipedia was written at a level suitable for a college student.
"PDQ's readability is doubtless due to the site's professional editing, whereas Wikipedia's lack of readability may reflect its varied origins and haphazard editing," Dr. Lawrence said. "Overall our results are reassuring: on the one hand Wikipedia appears to be extremely accurate, on the other, the resources invested in the creation and upkeep of the PDQ are clearly justified."
The study is being presented at the 2010 ASCO Annual Meeting in Chicago.