Research:Title: Gateway to Learning or Endpoint? Health Personnel Use of Wikipedia Reference Links

17:19, 4 June 2015 (UTC)
John Willinsky (Stanford), Lauren Maggio (Stanford), Ryan Steinberg (Stanford)
Duration:  2015-January – 2016-January
references, medicine, pageviews, usage, open access

This page is an incomplete draft of a research project.
Information is incomplete and is likely to change substantially before the project starts.

See also: Research:Investigating Wikipedia's role as a gateway to medical content.

Healthcare personnel heavily use Wikipedia in patient care. However, limited information exists on the nature of this use, especially on whether they use Wikipedia as a gateway to further information and deeper learning via the different types of reference links provided in Wikipedia entries. We believe that a greater understanding of these use patterns could have implications for the training of health professionals as critical consumers of online health information; the delivery of evidence-based medicine (EBM); the marketing and use of open access resources; and Wikimedia’s general mission of effectively disseminating information.

Today’s health care assumes a degree of EBM, which necessitates the attainment of and critical appraisal of information (e.g., randomized control trials, systematic reviews, etc.) and its application to a specific patient’s condition. Therefore, we seek to test the hypothesis that health personnel are more likely to consult and check the available evidence in Wikipedia entries, through the reference links provided, than the general public.



To test this hypothesis and learn more about healthcare providers’ use of Wikipedia links, we would like to conduct a study of Wikipedia’s web log data from specific communities of users to assess the use of reference links.

Our sample would include Wikipedia traffic from the state of California. Specifically, we are interested in examining traffic to Wikipedia from a medical system in California and from the state of California generally minus the traffic from the specified medical center. Going forward traffic from the medical system will be noted as MED and traffic from the state of California minus the medical system will be CAL.

Data collection


For both MED and CAL traffic over a period of seven days, we would request from Wikipedia for English Wikipedia Wiki Project Medicine Pages:

  • number of page views
  • number of sessions
  • page views per session
  • number of unique visitors
  • the number of references per page (outgoing urls)
  • the number of external links per page (outgoing urls not in ref tags)
  • the number of references clicked
  • the number of external links clicked
  • the urls for each clicked reference
  • the urls for each clicked external link

Ethics and Privacy


Prior to conducting any research, ethics approval would be sought from Stanford University’s Institutional Review Board and the WikiMedia Foundation to ensure the privacy of all data.

Using publicly available IP range information from American Registry of Internet Numbers (ARIN), we would provide Wikipedia with the MED IP ranges and request weblog data generated from the provided IP addresses. So as to protect the privacy of the medical system and decrease potential bias, we would not reveal its identity to Wikipedia. To contrast data from the known IP ranges, we would also request from Wikipedia web log data generated from CAL IP ranges.

We would ask Wikipedia to provide us data without identifying the groups to ensure that we are blind to each group’s identify as we undertake preliminary analysis. Following preliminary analysis, we would request to know which data set is CAL or MED to enable us to set the data within the context of the relevant populations.



We would statistically analyze the data to determine if significant differences exist between MED and CAL in regards to number of page views, clicks to Wikipedia references and the nature of the references clicked. In our analysis, we would attempt to classify the type, quality and open access status of clicked references by each group.



Following the completion of our study, we would publish our findings as a research article in an open access journal.



Our research team has expertise in library science, software development, medical education, evidence-based medicine, scholarly communication and open access, and has published several studies on health providers information needs and use.

  • Lauren Maggio MS(LIS), MA is the Director of Research and Instruction at Stanford University’s medical library and an instructor in the Wiki Project Medicine elective at the University of California, San Francisco.
  • Jake Orlowitz is a Board Member of Wiki Project Med Foundation and Head of The Wikipedia Library at the Wikimedia Foundation.
  • Ryan Steinberg MSI is a software developer at Stanford University’s medical library.
  • John Willinsky PhD is the Khosla Family Professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education, Director of the Public Knowledge Project and a board member of the Wiki Education Foundation.