Death of intellectual curiosity, due diligence and our profession

Over the weekend I read a tweet from a friend and colleague @kevinclauson. The tweet shared a link to an article titled “Young Adults’ Credibility Assessment of Wikipedia”. I don’t have a problem with the article. On the contrary, it just reinforces my dislike of Wikipedia as a healthcare reference source.

From the abstract: “This paper found that a few students demonstrated in-depth knowledge of the Wikipedia editing process, while most had some understanding of how the site functions and a few lacked even such basic knowledge as the fact that anyone can edit the site. Although many study participants had been advised by their instructors not to cite Wikipedia articles in their schoolwork, students nonetheless often use it in their everyday lives.” Kevin also links to the pre-print version of the article here (PDF).

Lately I’ve seen too many references to Wikipedia in the world of healthcare. That’s troubling. I was recently reading a new pharmacy textbook on informatics when I came across a citation that generated some interest in my mind, so I went to the bibliography section of the chapter only to find that the cited reference was Wikipedia. Needless to say I was disgusted. The textbook has received quite a bit of acclaim from many well-respected individuals in the pharmacy informatics community. What’s worse is the author is considered an expert in the field. In my mind the reference to Wikipedia discredits much of what the author had to say. I would have preferred an outright opinion on the subject. Anyway, the book now makes a nice drink coaster on my desk. That’s about all it’s good for.

From The Annals of Pharmacotherpy (Vol. 43, No. 11, pp. 1912-1913): “Approximately 80% of pharmacists use the Internet to obtain drug information. Wikipedia, often found at the top of Internet search results, is a free-access, collaborative, online encyclopedia that can be edited by anyone. Incidents of vandalism have occurred, since the site allows anyone to contribute. For example, an incident occurred in which a fake biography was created as a joke to implicate prominent writer and journalist John Seigenthaler for the assassination of John F Kennedy. It took about 4 months until the fake biography was detected and deleted by Wikipedia. Although Wikipedia does have an internal quality review, the ability of internal editors to find and correct erroneous information may not be timely. As reported by Clauson et al., the information found on Wikipedia may not be complete and accurate, especially in regard to drug information. Published data regarding pharmacists’ use of Wikipedia to obtain drug information is lacking. Therefore, the objective of this study was to measure pharmacists’ use and perception of Wikipedia for obtaining drug information.” – This letter to the editor discusses the results of a questionnaire given to pharmacists regarding the use of Wikipedia for drug information. I was dumbfounded to read that 28% of respondents reported using Wikipedia for drug information. Yikes!

Unfortunately the item above is part of a bigger trend in pharmacy. Many times I’ve heard older pharmacists talk about how new pharmacists are less prepared to enter the workforce than in recent memory. I’ve always blown that off as it’s hard to remember just how ignorant I was when I graduated from pharmacy school. It took me two years to figure out I didn’t know anything and another five years to learn what I really needed to know. However, maybe there’s something to it after all.

With the advent of the non-traditional PharmD, the shortage of pharmacists for the better part of the last decade and the incredible number of new pharmacy schools, I have to wonder if there’s something to the idea that our profession is slowly becoming watered down. I remember being in pharmacy school, and just how rigorous the literature review process was. There were certain things you just didn’t do, and among them were referencing things similar to Wikipedia – as Wikipedia didn’t actually exist at the time. Crud, we weren’t allowed to reference secondary literature, Micromedex or even certain journals that were considered sketchy. When we quoted something of any significance it was expected that we obtained that information from a credible primary literature source. Boy have things changed.

Yesterday I wrote a blog post for another website preaching the bright future of pharmacy secondary to the HITECH Act and the PPMI from ASHP. However, I think we may have a bigger problem if we can’t get ahold of pharmacists at the most basic level of our profession. We are highly trained, intelligent professionals and we should strive to behave in a manner that is above reproach. Using questionable reference material and watering down education because we need more pharmacist certainly isn’t the way to go about it.

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