Is Wikipedia misleading the public on health?

Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, contains errors in nine out of 10 of its health entries, and should be treated with caution, say scientists in the USA.

The research covered in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association stated that ‘Most Wikipedia articles representing the 10 most costly medical conditions in the United States contain many errors when checked against standard peer-reviewed sources. Caution should be used when using Wikipedia to answer questions regarding patient care’.

But then, the whole area of ‘volunteers’ ‘editing’ articles has been fraught with allegations of bullying, offensive comment to contributor writers and is, anyway, clearly open to bias and even misuse and abuse by people with agendas such as skeptics or pharmaceutical companies.

A spokesman for Wikipedia UK stated to the BBC that “Wikipedia can be edited by anybody, but many volunteers from the medical profession check the pages for inaccuracies”. Well, that’s all right then. And, of course, none of these volunteers have any links whatsoever to Pharmaceutical companies.

Entries for some areas of health such as Complementary and Integrative Medicine, even though written by scientists of competence, are known to have been sabotaged and altered by people with such agendas. This has received a great deal of negative comment on the Internet.

The American researchers in the study compared entries on Wikipedia on conditions such as heart disease, lung cancer, depression and diabetes with peer-reviewed medical research.

They said most articles in Wikipedia contained “many errors”.

Lead author Dr Robert Hasty, of the Wallace School of Osteopathic Medicine in North Carolina, said: “While Wikipedia is a convenient tool for conducting research, from a public health standpoint, patients should not use it as a primary resource because those articles do not go through the same peer-review process as medical journals.”

Yet, often when patients search for a health topic, Wikipedia is in the top two or three headings listed – it is the sixth most popular Internet site in the world. It is incorrectly read by many people with health problems as if it is some sort of consumer bible.

There are now even ‘clones’ of Wikipedia, like the Skeptic ‘gutter rag’ RationalWiki, which can feature totally subjective ‘articles’ using repeated 4 letter words and claims so wild they border on the false and defamatory. Readers looking for health information might easily mistake these clone sites for the real thing, making their quest for health even more difficult. It’s becoming a mess.

Wikimedia UK, its British arm, said it was “crucial that people with health concerns spoke to their GP first “.

Worryingly, Wikipedia UK claim that about 70% of physicians and medical students use the website.

Stevie Benton, at Wikimedia UK, said there were a “number of initiatives” in place to help improve the articles, “especially in relation to health and medicine”.

He said the charity had a project to bring together volunteer Wikipedia editors with a medical knowledge to identify articles that need improvement, find credible sources and make entries more “accurate and more readable”. Presumably this team will include practitioners in complementary medicine too. We can only hope. We can’t have the bias and errors being judged by more of the same, surely?

A couple of years ago it was announced that help was at hand – Wikipedia would be working with Cancer Research UK to review cancer-related articles by clinical researchers and writers to keep them accurate and up-to-date.

This may help with the accuracy, but it’s hard to know how that endorsement is going to make the Internet claims of bias go away.

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Polio Vaccine, Simian Monkey Virus and cancer links

Some 9 years ago CANCERactive covered several research studies from Japan on the higher incidence of Simian Monkey Virus (SV40) in people diagnosed with cancer.

The background to this is the Salk polio vaccine which, at the outset, used Simian Monkeys as the developing ground for the vaccine. Too late and after over 98 million vaccine doses had been prepared and over 30 million people had been inoculated, it was found that the Simian monkeys had a virus which was thus contained in the vaccine. The Salk vaccine then changed to use another animal source as its development host.

But. At the time we expressed great concern following the Japanese research revelations. One study looked at brain tumours where people who developed gliomas had much higher levels of SM40 than the population at large, and another study looked at cancers overall, with the same result. In 1961, the American National Institute of Health (NIH) stated that SV40 was ‘directly linked to causing tumor formation’.

It seems our fears were justified: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently posted a fact sheet entitled Cancer, Simian Virus 40 and Polio Vaccine outlining the links between the virus and cancer. However, this was removed hastily as controversy flared in America – but too late. RealFarmacy.com had already taken a copy of the damning report.

As you will see (original CDC page link http://www.cdc.gov and full archived page link: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com) the SV40 virus, has been linked to causing a variety of human cancers, including childhood leukemia, lung cancer, bone cancer, and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.

The CDC denies a definitive causal link between SV40 and cancer but implies it was problematic in relation to cancer development. Problematic is some sort of euphemism.

“Like other polyomaviruses, SV40 is a DNA virus that has been found to cause tumors and cancer,” explains RealFarmacy.com. “SV40 is believed to suppress the transcriptional properties of the tumor-suppressing genes in humans through the SV40 Large T-antigen and SV40 Small T-antigen. Mutated genes may contribute to uncontrolled cellular proliferation, leading to cancer.”

Michele Carbone, Assistant Professor of Pathology at Loyola University in Chicago, has found that the virus is present in many cases of both osteosarcoma bone cancer and the increasingly prevalent lung cancer variety known as mesothelioma. As it turns out, Carbone identified SV40 in about one-third of all osteosarcoma cases studied, and in 40 percent of other bone cancers. The same was true for 60 percent of all cases of mesothelioma. Obviously this conflicts with the accepted view that all mesothelioma is caused by asbestos exposure.

“Many authorities now admit much, possibly most, of the world’s cancers came from the Salk and Sabin polio vaccines, and hepatitis B vaccines, produced in monkeys and chimps,” adds RealFarmacy.com (http://www.realfarmacy.com).

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New blood test tracks cancer development

Scientists at the CRUK Institute at Cambridge University have managed to follow the progress of cancer in people by following traces of tumour DNA circulating in patients’ blood (ctDNA).

Importantly this also allows scientists to identify tumour changes and chemotherapy drug resistance (Nature).

The scientists followed 6 patients with advanced breast, ovarian and lung cancers over two years taking blood samples at regular points, and by looking for changes in the tumour ctDNA before and after each course of treatment, they were able to identify which changes in the tumour’s DNA were linked to drug resistance following each treatment session.

Using this new method they were able to identify several changes linked to drug-resistance in response to chemotherapy drugs such as paclitaxel (taxol) which is used to treat ovarian, breast and lung cancers, tamoxifen which is used to treat oestrogen-positive breast cancers and trastuzumab (Herceptin) which is used to treat HER2 positive breast cancers.

Dr Nitzan Rosenfeld one of the study authors, said: “Tumours are constantly changing and evolving which helps them develop a resistance to many of the drugs we currently give patients to treat their disease”.

“We’ve shown that a very simple blood test can be used to collect enough tumour DNA to suggest to us what parts of the cancer’s genetic code is changing and creating tumour resistance to chemotherapy or biologically-targeted therapies”.

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