Wikipedia:Conflicts of interest (medicine)

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On Wikipedia, a conflict of interest is an incompatibility between what the community believes is in Wikipedia's best interest and what you believe is in your best interest. If you edit Wikipedia to promote your goals to the detriment of the project's goals, you are abusing your conflict of interest and may be subject to sanctions, such as not being allowed to edit articles.

Conflict of interest editing is strongly discouraged. It risks causing public embarrassment to the individuals and groups being promoted (see Wikipedia is in the real world). "[M]isrepresenting your affiliation with any individual or entity" is a violation of the Wikimedia Foundation's terms of use.[1]

This essay outlines possible issues related to conflicts of interest in medicine-related articles on Wikipedia.

Who has a conflict of interest?[edit]

On Wikipedia, the people most interested in improving an article often have some connection to its subject. Current policy does not prohibit them from editing these articles, but they must put the encyclopedia's goals ahead of their own.

Wikipedia ultimately draws a distinction between having a conflict of interest and abusing a conflict of interest. It is possible for a person to have, or to appear to have, a conflict of interest without abusing it.

Merely having a real-world connection to the subject is not, on its own, a violation of Wikipedia's policies. For example, a person who is employed by a pharmaceutical manufacturer has a conflict of interest, but if this person's edits comply with Wikipedia's content and sourcing policies, then the person is not abusing the conflict of interest, and is welcome to edit articles.

Prohibitions on being paid to edit articles have been discussed, and have not been adopted. It is difficult to detect paid editors without voluntary disclosure, and it is possible to edit an article in ways that ultimately benefit Wikipedia more than the paid editor.

"Being an expert", including being a licensed healthcare professional, has never been considered a conflict of interest by the Wikipedia community. However, in the past experts have tried to use Wikipedia to promote their own theories beyond their prominence within the scientific community, and that is always inappropriate.

Possible mistakes by editors with a conflict of interest can include:

Possible conflict Potential problems
Employees of pharmaceutical, dietary supplement, or medical device manufacturers
Healthcare professionals (mainstream and alternative)
  • Adding or removing information so that a patient will make the "right" choice
  • Removing information that patients don't "need"
Healthcare advocates and activists
People with a medical condition
Academics and other experts
  • Citing your latest paper in the hope that increased visibility will drive up your H-index
  • Attempting to diminish or disparage a competitor's views or publications

On the other hand, people with a close tie to the subject are often very knowledgeable, and their input can be very useful when it comes to the who, what, where, when, and how of complex topics. Examples include:

Possible conflict Potential expertise
Employees of pharmaceutical, dietary supplement, or medical device manufacturers Knowledge of a product's regulatory and commercial history
Healthcare professionals (mainstream and alternative) Knowledge of well-sourced information about the profession, health issues, or treatments
Healthcare advocates and activists Knowledge of sources regarding social movements and effects
People with a medical condition Ensuring pages make sense to the average reader
Academics and other experts Adding well-sourced information to reflect the current expert opinion

In these cases, "knowledgeable" means knowing about reliable sources, not simply knowing about the topic: Personal experience is never a valid reason for adjusting a page. Once a source has been identified, the ability of any editor to integrate it into the page and summarize it accurately is limited only by their understanding of the material.

Disclosing a conflict of interest[edit]

If you have a conflict of interest, you are encouraged—but not required—to share that information with others.

Self-identification is a two-edged sword: You get points from most users for being honest, and editors often recognize your expertise, but a few have used it to harass editors. Do not disclose personal information that could put you at risk in the real world, such as by attracting stalkers to your home.

If your conflict of interest relates to your employment, you should check with your employer. Some companies require public disclosure of the conflict of interest, and a few prohibit their employees from editing Wikipedia. If editing from your workplace, or as part of your job, it may be worth establishing a legitimate second account to segregate work and personal editing.

Ways to voluntarily disclose a conflict of interest
  • Some editors have voluntarily chosen to disclose a conflict of interest by including their employers' names in their account names, e.g., these folks from GlaxoSmithKline. You may not, however, have an account used by multiple people.
  • Other editors explain their situation on their user pages.
  • Another option is to identify your conflict of interest on the talk pages of articles you edit.
  • Editing without an account exposes your IP address to the world. Corporate IP addresses are highly traceable, and public reports are sporadically issued on abusive editing by unregistered users from corporate offices, leading to embarrassment and occasionally real-world disciplinary actions.

How to minimize abuse[edit]

Editors at medicine-related articles use several strategies to reduce the risk of abusing a conflict of interest. These include:

  • Meeting obvious needs. Anyone is welcome to revert vandalism and to fix grammar problems. Please correct serious factual errors, although you might leave the fine points and controversies to others.
  • Learning our standards. Read our advice on finding the best sources for medical information at WP:MEDRS. Read our style guide at WP:MEDMOS. Remember that Wikipedia does not provide medical advice and is not a patient guide or drug formulary.
  • Adding non-controversial information. Employees in the medical manufacturing industries might be in a unique position to provide commercial, regulatory, and historical information for products. Healthcare professionals are often skilled at explaining complex disease processes. Patients with chronic medical conditions often understand the prognosis and social impact of a medical challenge. Within your expertise, focus on the 90% that everyone agrees on, rather than the 10% that is disputed.
  • Supplying top-quality sources for everything. Adding high-quality independent, third-party sources is one of the best ways to show that your work is intended to benefit the reader, rather than yourself.
  • Working together. Propose sources and improvements on the talk pages, explaining your reluctance to boldly add the material if you suspect that you might be accused of abusing a conflict of interest.
  • Getting help with disputes. If you need help, post a message at WikiProject Medicine or WikiProject Pharmacology to request help.

What does a conflict of interest not mean?[edit]

A conflict of interest does not mean a source or editor can be dismissed a priori. While pharmaceutical companies have put profits ahead of health in some situations,[2] that does not mean a company employee is so biased their knowledge and interests can be ignored. While patients may be motivated to reflect their own experience in a Wikipedia article, that does not mean that all of their contributions should be removed. While activists may place undue emphasis on "getting the message out" that does not mean every single edit is unavoidably slanted towards proselytizing. It just means on certain pages, some editors should be less bold, more respectful of consensus, more scrupulous about sourcing and neutrality, and more aware of their own potential biases.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ The Foundation's terms of use are Wikipedia policy, see Wikipedia:Terms of use.
  2. ^ Cohen, J (2006-02-21). "Pharmanoia: Coming to a clinical trial near you". Slate. Retrieved 2009-11-02. 

External links[edit]