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The Signpost interviewed three of the project's members. Jfdwolff has been on Wikipedia since 2004, and is a Dutch doctor working in the UK.; active WikiProject Medicine member WhatamIdoing joined Wikipedia in 2006; and Jmh649 (Doc James) is a Canadian doctor who joined Wikipedia in 2007.
How long have you been working on WikiProject Medicine?
JFW: I arrived in February 2004, and soon identified a number of contributors with a medical background. Seeing that WikiProject Medical Conditions was defunct, I started off a little group (initially on a subpage of my userpage). Kd4ttc, Alteripse and Kpjas were early members. We eventually moved to a new WikiProject called "Clinical Medicine" (because we wanted to focus on the practical aspects). Somewhat later, other editors arrived. For a while, WP:MED existed as a parent of "Clinical Medicine", and the two merged completely only a few years ago. Not a lot of the original bunch are still around, but we are frequently joined by enthusiastic new members. I only wish that more doctors are aware of the fact that patients often turn to Wikipedia for health information (doi:10.1197/jamia.M3059), and that we have a bit of a duty to make sure this content is of high quality! Members of the WikiProject have recently published an article in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (doi:10.2196/jmir.1589) calling on medical professionals to contribute to Wikipedia.
WhatamIdoing: I stumbled across WikiProject Medicine a couple of months after joining Wikipedia. Like most editors, I lurked for a while, silently helping out here and there. Three and a half years later, I'm now one of the most vocal participants on the project page.
Doc James: I made my first edits to the article on obesity approximately three years ago and continued working nearly exclusively on it for the subsequent few months. After more than a thousand edits I had brought it to WP:GA status. It was not until this point that I began looking at the medical content more broadly and participating in many other aspects of the WikiProject. I always query my students about their use of Wikipedia and push them to not only use it as a resource but attempt to improve it. I am amazed how many people still do not realize that they too can edit.
WikiProject Medicine has quite a lot of Featured articles. Have you been a main contributor to any of them?
JFW: I have taken four articles to Featured status, and I think I can take the credit as the main contributor for all of them, but usually with help from other WikiProject members. Coeliac disease is common, but it not easy to find a good resource about it on the internet. At the time when it became Featured, the article got a positive mention in a book review in a medical journal (doi:10.1136/gut.2007.121533). Subarachnoid hemorrhage is a much feared and disabling form of stroke. Meningitis is a similarly feared disease that frequently causes epidemics in Africa. Thyrotoxic periodic paralysis got me a Four Award; it is a rare but recognised phenomenon that mostly affects South-East Asian males who develop an overactive thyroid gland.
Doc James: While I have not managed to shepherd any articles through the WP:FA process, I have worked extensively on a few such as schizophrenia, the prototypical mental illness. In January 2011 it received nearly half a million page views and was the project's 7th most visited page.
What do you like about volunteering for WikiProject Medicine?
JFW: At the time when I first started writing for Wikipedia I had just been studying for a professional exam, and had a brain full of facts. The opportunity to do something useful with this was much welcomed. Since then, work on medical Wikipedia articles has given me the opportunity to immerse myself in a topic, and create something that is hopefully useful for others. I tend to pick topics that are relevant in my daily work, and once I have written a complete article on a subject, I find that the knowledge thus gained turns out to be useful in practice.
WhatamIdoing: I like the focus we have on helping people improve the medicine-related content. The people at what we sometimes call "the doctors' mess" (even though most of us aren't medical professionals) are great. If you've got a problem in a medicine-related article, we can usually help you solve it. Some of our help is written out. For example, if you're wondering whether you've covered everything in an article you've been working on, WP:Manual of Style (medicine-related articles)#Sections, which was developed by project members, can help you figure out what you might have overlooked. However, the real strength is in the typically helpful response people get to questions at the project's talk page. We field questions on the talk page about a wide variety of issues that our editors encounter, from figuring out wiki markup to reliable sources, vandalism to content disputes.
Doc James: What we do here really matters, with nearly 200 million page views a month for medical articles alone and 50% of practicing physicians in the U.S. using Wikipedia in clinical practice. Wikipedia has an impact that I think is often not appreciated.
What is the most interesting article that you have seen covered by WikiProject Medicine?
JFW: A difficult question, because there are so many interesting articles! In general, the most interesting articles are those where we can use the power of the encyclopedia to dwell more on the social and humanitarian aspects of certain diseases. Before I started writing rhabdomyolysis, I was unaware that globally, this is most commonly encountered in people who sustain a crush injury in an earthquake, and that professional organisations have set up "flying squad" dialysis teams to treat the survivors. I was also unaware of a theory that rhabdomyolysis may have affected the Israelites in the desert (Numbers 11:31-33), when they consumed excessive amounts of quail.
WhatamIdoing: WikiProject Medicine has already assessed about 25,000 articles, so identifying an all-time favorite is difficult. Usually, the most interesting article is whichever one I'm working on at the moment. I've had a lot of fun with articles about basic concepts. For example, I've been working on Disease recently, which hints at some interesting questions: "Where do we draw the line between normal variation and disease? How much should we rely on an objective or statistical idea of normal, rather than the personal experiences of the affected people? If the human experience matters, whose experience counts more: the person with the condition, or the people who have to deal with the effects of that condition?" Of course, there are dozens of articles on odd medical conditions or treatments, like Tobacco smoke enema, or the ones listed at Wikipedia:Unusual articles#Science.
Doc James: It is interesting to look at the literature and every once in a while, discover what you had heard repeated many times before just ain't so or is more complicated than previously made out. For example, it is unclear whether breast cancer screening does more good than harm, or that the Trendelenburg position for the treatment of low blood pressure is unsupported by evidence and may even be harmful.