McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

Workshop planned for Wikipedia writers

By Suzanne Morrison
Published: September 30, 2011
Wikipedia logo

Wikipedia is making its first Canadian university stop at McMaster University Tuesday, Oct. 4 to encourage students, faculty, researchers and staff to contribute to its medical and health pages.

The university’s reputation for innovation and evidence-based collaborations got the interest of Dr. James Heilman, president of Wikimedia Canada, a contributor to Wiki Project Medicine and an emergency room physician in Cranbrook, British Columbia.

"McMaster University is a well-known innovator in health sciences. Wikipedia is attempting to provide evidence-based medical content free to the world.  Seeing this concept was initially developed at McMaster, I see this as an ideal university at which to begin our collaborative efforts here in Canada," he said.

A half-day workshop on how to get involved in creating and editing health care content for Wikipedia will be held at 1.30 p.m. in the Student Centre, Room 319. Reservations may be made by emailing Cindy Purnomo, and participants are being asked to bring their laptops.

Heilman said Wikipedia is one of the major, non-commercial sources in the world for health and medical information. Its medical articles get between 150-200 million page views a month (in English alone) with up to 70 per cent of physicians using it in their clinical practice. "Physicians in the Third World use Wikipedia all the time and without it they would not have access to high quality information," he said.

"Right now, Wikipedia is a good source of information but it could be better," he said. "To improve Wikipedia we need the input of the academic community."

So that everyone on the planet has free access to high-quality health information in the language of their choice, Heilman said there is a need to write actual content. "There may be 20,000 medical conditions. If we were each to take one of them and write a well referenced review, or take an already high quality article in the public domain and translate it into another language, it would not be long before we have created (an excellent resource)."

There is no formal process to begin working with Wikipedia. The quality of all content is subjected to a number of checks: Bots (computer programs) look at all new changes and revert obviously poor edits; a group of volunteers go over all new changes to the encyclopedia (known as Recent Changes Patrol); some content at certain points in time is locked into place to prevent its removal.

The free workshop is sponsored by McMaster’s Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, the National Collaborating Centre for Methods and Tools based at McMaster and the City of Hamilton Public Health Services.

The half-day workshop will include both presentations and breakout workshops.  Speakers include Jonathan Obar, Wikipedia education programs advisor, Canada and Dr. Christopher Mackie, associate medical officer of health for Hamilton and assistant professor in the Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics.

Further information

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