Wikipedia’s Anti-Natural Health SlantSeptember 7, 2010
Wikipedia is the largest and most popular reference site on the Internet. Yet the articles that are pro-health freedom or integrative medicine perspectives are consistently gutted, removed, or vandalized.
Wikipedia’s 16 million articles (over 3.3 million in English) have been written collaboratively by volunteers around the world, and almost all of its articles can be edited by anyone with access to the site. But it is also an open platform, one prone to sabotage or editing by people with a particular bias, and natural health entries are often the ones bashed the most. Consequently, millions of people who search for alternative medicine cannot find information that isn’t heavily biased toward conventional medicine and the pharmaceutical industry.
Here are a few cases in point:
- According to Dr. Ronald Klatz, president of American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine (A4M), Wikipedia has repeatedly deleted his postings and those from other A4M doctors trying to provide positive information on anti-aging. In other words, they can’t get their perspectives posted even when writing about their own organization.
- Positive, science-based information in the article on Orthomolecular Medicine is repeatedly removed, leaving only critical opinions.
- The entry for Nutritionist states that ADA-registered dieticians are the food and nutrition experts, while mere nutritionists have different (and, it is implied, inferior) training and expertise. This ignores the fact that most dieticians have college degrees only, while many nutritionists have master’s and PhD degrees. The article has more information about dieticians than about nutritionists, who are supposed to be the subject of the article, and its “See Also” section links to the dietician page—though there is no reciprocity of links from the dietician page to this one.
- The article on Alternative Medicine has a lengthy section on how CAM is perceived by the scientific community, at one point quoting evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, who defined alternative medicine as a “set of practices which cannot be tested, refuse to be tested, or consistently fail tests,” and said that “if a technique is demonstrated effective in properly performed trials, it ceases to be alternative and simply becomes medicine.” The article also includes inflammatory section headers like, “Danger Can Be Increased When Used as a Complement to Standard Medical Care.”
- The article on Dr. Julian Whitaker was flagged in December 2007 as lacking neutrality—yet the controversy has not been resolved to this date. Not only does the piece malign Dr. Whitaker, it contains false and certainly libelous information about ANH-USA under our former name: “The American Association for Health Freedom [is] an advocacy organisation that promotes allowing patients and physicians to receive insurance compensation for procedures not supported by scientific evidence.”
While anyone can edit an article, and one can challenge the decisions made by other editors, the debates can become mired in endless argument with little or no satisfactory resolution—and no recourse.
Larry Sanger, who co-founded Wikipedia in 2001, left the organization in because he was concerned about its integrity: “[There are] many problems afflicting Wikipedia, from serious management problems, to an often dysfunctional community, to frequently unreliable content, and to a whole series of scandals. While Wikipedia is still quite useful and an amazing phenomenon, I have come to the view that it is also broken beyond repair.” One example: in 2007 it was revealed that a prominent and long-standing Wikipedia contributor had lied about his identity, having claimed to be a tenured university professor when he was in fact a 24-year-old college drop-out.
Sanger notes that “In some fields and some topics, there are groups who ‘squat’ on articles and insist on making them reflect their own specific biases. There is no credible mechanism to approve versions of articles. Vandalism, once a minor annoyance, has become a major headache—made possible because the community allows anonymous contribution. Many experts have been driven away because know-nothings insist on ruining their articles.”
Despite these problems, Wikipedia remains a huge force on the internet, and supporters of natural health and integrative medicine cannot simply accept the current situation. If every one of our readers with internet and especially Wikipedia skills, took a hand in writing and editing articles, using verified scientific information with suitable citations, the situation could be improved radically.
So please consider this article another call to action, but of a different kind. Please get involved with Wikipedia and help save it from the one-sided critics (and, for all we know drug company ghost writers) who seem to control it now.
Before leaving this topic, we should also mention an alternative to Wikipedia called the “Wiki4CAM,” the Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) Encyclopedia. It was founded “to provide the Complementary and Alternative Medicine community its own space, where it can build its knowledge base….A wiki is all about community participation. Your active involvement can make this wiki the most exhaustive and authoritative source for complementary and alternative medicine.” We do not endorse this encyclopedia, which is a work in progress, but it too would benefit from some knowledgeable volunteers.