Wikipedia and Cochrane collaboration: Big push for evidence-informed public health

Shobha Shukla and Bobby Ramakant, CNS
Dr David Tovey
The Cochrane Collaboration has undoubtedly succeeded in deepening the roots of evidence-based medicine, policy and practice, despite challenges and limitations. How to ensure that healthcare professionals, policy makers, and citizens can have access to this reliable and trustworthy evidence while making decisions is indeed a key challenge. At 22nd Cochrane Colloquium, Wikipedia and Cochrane collaboration attracted huge attention: because it can indeed be a potential game-changer in terms of widening the audience manifold, astronomically!

But the way Wikipedia and Cochrane Library function seems like a world apart: Wikipedia uses crowd sourcing and is a user driven online encyclopedia, and indeed is accessed by millions of people daily for information needs. Cochrane on the other hand is globally known for very thorough and scientifically robust goldmine repository of systematic reviews that provide the key evidence on a range of health related issues. How will these two agencies collaborate?

Citizen News Service (CNS) team spoke with Dr David Tovey, Editor-in-Chief of The Cochrane Library. He said: "We have 53 review groups around the world and each of them takes a public-health related specific subject area. If one wants to publish a review in that subject you have to approach that group. So Cochrane is different from other journals as journals take the finished work and they decide whether to publish it or not. But in Cochrane, you have to submit an idea and work it up a bit, and if that is approved, peer-reviewed, published, then you go on to do the review - when we get the submitted version we publish it. This is fairly consistent across all the 53 groups. We have a technology that supports this, we have peer reviewers and a number of different processes/systems to make sure that the end product is as good as it can be."

But are these systematic reviews used? "If you look at the usage they are all 'pygmy sized' compared to the usage of Wikipedia. Just the scientific medical content on Wikipedia is seen hundreds of millions of times. No journal and no other channel in terms of readership is anywhere close to it or as effective. In theory people can go and change the content on Wikipedia. Scientific content does have scientific editors who do curate the Cochrane content in Wikipedia. There are editors and moderators. So while it is possible that information could be changed, there are some checks and balances in place. So we think the benefit of this vastly greater access, possibility of getting translated into a vast number of languages outweighs the small risk that somebody will slightly distort that will come down to wrong messaging. But we are very careful about this. We have a Wikipedia Resident Editor (Sydney Poore), and she is also doing a lot of training around Wikipedia to make sure that the Cochrane groups understand how to put their content on Wikipedia and the way it fits into Wikipedia structure" said Dr Tovey.

Cochrane was already doing plain language summaries to increase uptake of its evidence and systematic reviews and increasingly getting its content translated in all WHO languages. "We do have Cochrane summaries and reviews in a number of different languages. We have just licensed use of a translation platform that would allow us to use machine translation plus crowd sourcing that would potentially lead to much more translations of Cochrane reviews published by Cochrane. We think that we produce the best reviews of the effectiveness of treatment, so we want people (who will take the treatment or will prescribe the treatment) to have access to the best information available while making decisions" added Dr Tovey.
Dr Manu Mathew

Dr Manu Mathew who has been associated with the Cochrane and was a lead facilitator of a workshop on Wikipedia and Cochrane collaboration at 22nd Cochrane Colloquium, said to CNS:"Wikipedia is where the 'world' looks for knowledge and Cochrane Collaboration is trying to leverage from this reach of Wikipedia so that people who access Wikipedia in search of information can benefit from the evidence Cochrane generates."

Wikipedia information is 'verifiable' and banks on secondary sources. "Cochrane evidence is ideal secondary source and verifiable" said Dr Mathew.

Health Systems on the Cochrane 'radar'
Third Global Symposium on Health Systems Research (HSR 2014) will soon open in Cape Town, South Africa. Connecting the dots Dr Tovey said: "Even at the beginning of Cochrane in 1994-1995 we were thinking about health systems implementation. It is quite interesting that increasingly the research people are looking for is in health systems - how things can be effectively implemented. So it is not only about drugs and therapies but also about how to get these drugs to people, and what are the other things going in their lives other than medical problems that impact health system. 20-30% of the published research that we see being asked for is around health systems and implementation science, which according to me is very important."

Shobha Shukla and Bobby Ramakant
Citizen News Service - CNS
26 September 2014