Slate: “…Like most encyclopedias, Wikipedia typically functions as a launch pad that provides a general overview of a topic and points to further or original sources. But at least one new study suggests that Wikipedia is superior to other medical sources in at least one key respect: short-term knowledge acquisition. That is, when it comes to finding the right answers quickly, Wikipedia seems to lead the pack. This suggests a new way of thinking about the utility of the crowdsourced encyclopedia. Wikipedia delivers value not only by offering massive amounts of information with its nearly 5.8 million English articles so far, but by providing the means for even professional users to quickly identify and retrieve the most relevant information.
The authors of the paper, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research in October, devised a “three-arm randomized trial” to test the comparative effects of three resources. 116 first- or second-year medical students in Canada took a multiple-choice medical test similar to the Canadian medical licensing examination. During the test, participants took notes on topics to research. After the test, the students were provided one of three pre-selected resources: Wikipedia, a digital textbook, or UpToDate, a subscription service mostly used by doctors. After the test, participants researched topics and took written notes using their assigned resource. Then the students retook the test using their notes.
If you’re like me, then at this point you’re probably feeling bad for the poor medical students. But at least the trial yielded a meaningful result: Students in the Wikipedia group had significantly better post-test performances on the exam compared to the digital textbook group. The Wikipedia group also outperformed the UpToDate group by a small margin, an impressive result given that UpToDate costs more than $500 annually for a subscription…More than 90 percent of medical students, and 50–70 percent of physicians, use the online encyclopedia as a source for health information…”