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Meta-Research: Reader engagement with medical content on Wikipedia

  1. Lauren A Maggio  Is a corresponding author
  2. Ryan M Steinberg
  3. Tiziano Piccardi
  4. John M Willinsky
  1. Uniformed Services University, United States
  2. Stanford University, United States
  3. École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland
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Cite this article as: eLife 2020;9:e52426 doi: 10.7554/eLife.52426


Articles on Wikipedia about health and medicine are maintained by WikiProject Medicine (WPM), and are widely used by health professionals, students and others. We have compared these articles, and reader engagement with them, to other articles on Wikipedia. We found that WPM articles are longer, possess a greater density of external links, and are visited more often than other articles on Wikipedia. Readers of WPM articles are more likely to hover over and view footnotes than other readers, but are less likely to visit the hyperlinked sources in these footnotes. Our findings suggest that WPM readers appear to use links to external sources to verify and authorize Wikipedia content, rather than to examine the sources themselves.

Data availability

With the approval and support of the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF), we accessed the data presented in this study via the Wikimedia's Event Logging system and the production MediaWiki database. Due to WMF data policies intended to protect the privacy of readers and editors, all of the data collected and analyzed has had to remain within their protected data environment. Therefore, the data is not publicly available. While this data is not publicly available, data may be available upon request from the WMF research team. To gain access to the data researchers should review the WMF Research Team's current procedures for data requests ( The WMF Research Team will evaluate the request based on Wikimedia's data access criteria. The code utilized to collect and analyze the data, however, is organized and made publicly available in a collated series of Jupyter notebooks at: (Steinberg et al., 2019).

Article and author information

Author details

  1. Lauren A Maggio

    Medicine, Uniformed Services University, Bethesda, United States
    For correspondence
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-2997-6133
  2. Ryan M Steinberg

    Lane Medical Library, Stanford University, Stanford, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  3. Tiziano Piccardi

    Computer Science, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  4. John M Willinsky

    Graduate School of Education, Stanford University, Stanford, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.


The authors declare that there was no funding for this work.

Reviewing Editor

  1. Julia Deathridge, eLife, United Kingdom

Publication history

  1. Received: October 3, 2019
  2. Accepted: March 6, 2020
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: March 6, 2020 (version 1)
  4. Version of Record published: March 23, 2020 (version 2)


This is an open-access article, free of all copyright, and may be freely reproduced, distributed, transmitted, modified, built upon, or otherwise used by anyone for any lawful purpose. The work is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication.


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