Photo: Courtesy Of Wikipedia.
For hypochondriacs (and those of us who just like to know what's going on in our bodies), the Internet is a blessing and a curse. The sheer volume of information makes it possible to learn everything there is to know about a given condition or set of symptoms — which can either allay our health fears or make them much, much worse. Of course, the democratic nature of the Internet allows certain extraneous "facts" to be given the same amount of weight as actual, bona-fide, peer-reviewed research. With so many voices competing for attention, it can be difficult to tell what's real and what's not.
A new study published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association suggests that one of our go-to sources belongs firmly in the latter (NOT real) category. Researchers compared Wikipedia articles on the 10 most costly medical conditions in the U.S. (including depression, heart disease, and diabetes) to peer-reviewed, published studies on the same topics (aggregated on PubMed, UpToDate, and Google Scholar). The researchers found that, with the exception of the entry on concussions, the Wikipedia articles "contained assertions that are inconsistent with peer-reviewed sources." In other words, nine out of 10 entries contained claims that didn't match up with the proven ones.
Of course, by its very DIY nature, Wikipedia is bound to be less-than-accurate (or complete) when compared to academic research. But, this study does beg the question: If Wikipedia is totally useless for information on medical conditions, how much more reliable are other sources of online medical info? It's pretty clear that if you have a health concern, the convenient, fast-'n'-easy route is probably not the most legitimate one. You'd probably be better off just asking your GP — that is, unless you have the time and patience it takes to pore over all those peer-reviewed studies on Google Scholar.