Submissions:2019/Fringe theories and edit histories: Six tips for critical information literacy on health topics with Wikipedia

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Due to limited space, WikiConference North America 2019 unfortunately could not accommodate this submission in its program this year.
Please check out our Unconference for opportunities to present and share there.


Fringe theories and edit histories: Six tips for critical information literacy on health topics with Wikipedia


Reliability of Information
+ Relationship Building & Support
+ Inclusion and Diversity

Type of session:



Slides for lightning talk version.

Searching for information on health or medical topics is the third most popular online activity (Pew Research, 2014). People often seek supplemental or easy-to-read information as well as affective communities to help them cope with anxieties, questions, or concerns about their health, or the health of people they know (Neal and McKenzie 2011). Though the open web excludes paywalled and offline resources, it is a powerful, accessible resource. Wikipedia, the free and open encyclopedia, frequently tops search results. While the collaborative encyclopedia is not meant to provide medical advice, editors know Wikipedia entries are popular. Wikipedians have devoted attention to developing and monitoring robust guidelines (WP:MEDRS) to aid collaborative editing on biomedical topics, including entries on alternative medicine. These guidelines help ensure information accurately summarizes consensus in the scientific community by using verifiable third-party secondary sources. While this is important for the Wikipedia community, fringe or alternative theories about health and wellness persist in the public at large. The recent measles outbreak is evidence of a breakdown in public trust in the vaccine schedule and herd immunity, which raises more general questions about how and to what extent expanded access to information on-and off-line can strengthen health and medical information literacies.

This talk offers a pedagogy for critical information literacies for skeptical searchers by fully embracing how Wikipedia is a complex participatory community embedded in a commercial internet ecosystem. I'll explain the meaning of critical information literacy and summarize research on affective, aesthetic, and social ways that internet users accept as reliable the information they encounter on Wikipedia (see Rowley and Johnson, 2013); then I'll present six specific techniques and case studies (about topics such as vaccines, pseudoscience/fringe theories, supplements, and articles in women’s health) that can foster critical information literacy about health and medical topics in educational settings, such as library training programs. In giving this talk, I will also describe the OCLC Wikipedia + Libraries: Health and Medical Information course delivered in fall 2019, which is an NNLM-sponsored OCLC WebJunction course for public library staff. I developed this curriculum as a Wikipedia consultant in Spring/Fall 2019, a subsection of the course is the basis of this talk. I wish to note my viewpoints are my own and do not represent OCLC or NNLM. This talk may be of interest to all of us in the Wikimedia movement concerned about the ways that social and psychological processes impact the circulation, credibility and authority of information, and also curious about possible ways that literacies in Wikipedia's inner workings can be marshaled to deepen critical literacies for editors and non-editors alike.



Academic Peer Review option:


Author name:

Monika M Sengul-Jones

E-mail address:

Wikimedia username:


Affiliated organization(s):

Estimated time:


Preferred room size:


Special requests:

Presentation projector, screen etc.

Have you presented on this topic previously? If yes, where/when?:

Not yet (will run course on Wikipedia + Libraries: Health and Medical Information in fall 2019)

If your submission is not accepted, would you be open to presenting your topic in another part of the program? (e.g. lightning talk or unconference session)