Wikipedia hosts forum to improve online health info

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Wikipedia hosts forum to improve online health info

Discussions centred on accuracy of user-generated health information.

Wikipedia is hosting a forum with the US medical community in an effort to improve the accuracy of its health-related information.

The public outreach event, dubbed a Wikipedia Academy, will take place on July 16, at the Maryland campus of United States National Institutes of Health (NIH).

It is expected to increase dialogue between the Wikipedia community and NIH's network of more than 3,000 research institutions across the country.

Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia whose entries are authored and edited by members of the public.

Despite there being no guarantee of the validity of its content, Wikipedia is widely used. It currently contains almost 13.5 million articles and attracts more than 14 million page views per hour.

There will be nine Wikipedia contributors presenting at the July 16 Academy, including Tim Vickers and Michael Laurent, whose research paper about Wikipedia's significance as a source of online health information has recently been published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association.

After the Academy, instructions about how to contribute, including video footage of the event, will be made available to scientists on NIH and Wikipedia Web sites.

NIH's Director of Public Information, Marin P. Allen, called the Academy a training effort that targets "the public's growing need for reliable health information."

"The more scientists and health communicators who participate, the more accurate the information will become," she told iTnews.

Previous Wikipedia Academies have taken place in Europe, focussing on academic subject matter experts as well as users with local cultural knowledge.

"Academies have helped reduce broad misunderstandings about Wikipedia, and have also brought new kinds of users into the project," said Jay Walsh, who is Head of Communications at the Wikimedia Foundation, which operates Wikipedia.

There currently are no plans for a Wikipedia Academy in Australia. However, Walsh said organisers plan to create an event format that will enable volunteers to host similar events locally.

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