Wikipedia:Conflicts of interest (medicine)

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On Wikipedia, a conflict of interest (COI) involves contributing to articles and discussions about yourself or your external relationships, including family, friends and clients. 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]

People most interested in improving an article may have a connection to its subject.

There is a distinction between an actual and potential conflict of interest. A pharmaceutical-company employee has a potential COI in relation to that company and its products, and an actual COI if she tries to edit the article or take part in discussions about it.

Having expertise, including being a licensed healthcare professional, does not constitute a conflict of interest, but it is inappropriate for experts to use Wikipedia to give their own theories, or issues that are very important to them in their field, emphasis beyond the prominence of those ideas within the scientific community. Editing in this manner likely violates WIkipedia's policy against using Wikipedia for advocacy. If you are passionate about some issue in medicine in the real world, please do read the helpful essays WP:SPA and WP:ADVOCACY, and please check your own behavior against the list of behaviors that advocates tend to fall into here.

COI disclosure and direct article editing[edit]

General conflict of interest[edit]

If you have a general conflict of interest, you are encouraged by the WP:COI guideline to disclose it, and you are strongly discouraged from editing affected articles.

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.

Financial conflict of interest[edit]

Editors with a financial COI are advised by WP:FINANCIALCOI (part of WP:COI) to refrain from editing affected articles. They may suggest changes on the talk pages of those articles, and should disclose the COI as part of the request. The {{request edit}} template can be used to do this.

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Main page: WP:DISCLOSEPAY

WP:NOPAY (part of WP:COI) advises paid editors not to edit affected articles directly, but to make suggestions for change on the articles' talk pages.

The Wikimedia Foundation's terms of use require editors to disclose their employer, client and affiliation with respect to any edit for which they receive, or expect to receive, compensation. The disclosure must be made in at least one of the following ways:

  • a statement on your user page,
  • a statement on the talk page accompanying any paid contributions, or
  • a statement in the edit summary accompanying any paid contributions.

Some paid editors have included their employers' names in their account names, e.g., these accounts from GlaxoSmithKline. You may not, however, set up a shared account that is used by multiple people.

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.

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.

Common mistakes[edit]

These are some common mistakes that are specific to editors who have health- or medicine-related conflicts of interest.

Editors COI mistakes
Owners, employees or contractors of pharmaceutical, dietary supplement, diagnostic, or medical device manufacturers, contract research organizations, and public-relations representatives for such companies
  • Requesting the addition of unsourced or poorly sourced content about a product's safety or efficacy, or the deletion of well-sourced material about adverse effects
  • Requesting the deletion of well-sourced, appropriate material about proprietary technology
  • Requesting the addition of criticism of competitors' products
Healthcare providers (physicians, surgeons, nurses, etc)
  • Promoting your medical practice, department, or institution
  • Promoting your medical theories, approaches, or inventions
Healthcare advocates and activists
Scientists in academia or companies
  • 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

People with a close tie to the subject may be very knowledgeable about it, and their input on talk pages can be useful when it comes to the who, what, where, when, and how of complex topics. Examples include:

Editors Expertise
Owners, employees or contractors of pharmaceutical, dietary supplement, or medical device manufacturers, and their PR representatives Knowledge of sources regarding a product's regulatory and commercial history
Members of healthcare-advocacy groups Knowledge of sources regarding social movements and their effects

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.

How you can help if you have a COI[edit]

  • Meeting obvious needs. Anyone is welcome to revert vandalism and fix grammar problems.
  • Identifying non-controversial changes. Within your expertise, focus on the 90% that everyone agrees on, rather than the 10% that is disputed. Factual errors can be brought to the attention of other editors, either on the article's talk page or at one of the noticeboards.
  • 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.
  • Supplying top-quality sources. Supplying high-quality independent, third-party sources on the talk page is often helpful.
  • Working together. Propose improvements on the talk pages, explaining your reluctance to edit directly. Be careful not to take up a disproportionate amount of volunteer time; see WP:COITALK.
  • Getting help with disputes. If you need help, post a message at WikiProject Medicine or WikiProject Pharmacology.

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

That a conflict of interest exists does not mean that material from a conflicted source or editor should necessarily be dismissed. It does mean that COI editors, and in particular paid editors, are advised to raise concerns on talk pages rather than edit affected articles directly, and to be more respectful of consensus, more scrupulous about sourcing and neutrality, and more aware of their own biases.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ The Foundation's terms of use are Wikipedia policy, see Wikipedia:Terms of use.

External links[edit]