#009 I DID A WIKIPEDIA SEARCH ONLY TO BE SHOCKED BY WHAT I FOUND

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Last updated on May 18, 2021

Not everything that you read online is true, and I’m here to prove it.  Take a popular online encyclopedia like Wikipedia that some people reference.  Listen up!  It might not be the most accurate. 

Today I did something that I haven't done in years. Many of you will agree with me that food allergies can affect young children.   Well, anyway, I looked up the food allergy known as FPIES (food protein-induced enterocolitis syndrome) on Wikipedia. Do you know what I read? Just in the first two paragraphs alone, there was misinformation. First, the article said that FPIES is triggered by birch pollen. Second, the Wikipedia article went on to say that FPIES is a variant of oral allergy syndrome. Now mind you, this was only in the first paragraph.

Just in case you are curious, no, FPIES is not triggered by birch pollen, and no, FPIES is not a variant of oral allergy syndrome.  I know!  I work the "FPIES Handbook".  For me, these statements, especially the second one about FPIES being a variant of oral allergy syndrome, are so surprising and unexpected. It is like saying that snow is made out of cookies. It is like saying that the Earth is flat when we all know that our planet is a sphere.

I was shocked by the degree of misinformation. I was shocked about how wrong I was, and then I remembered what Wikipedia actually says about itself on its own website, "Wikipedia is not a reliable source". You never know who is editing the material. They are right! What a true statement! Thanks for the reminder, Wikipedia!

Have any of you had this dream fantasy of Wikipedia being an online encyclopedia that is full of accuracies?  Perhaps you thought that it had a team of individuals who could validate the information. Even if Wikipedia did not have a team, perhaps you thought that a big-name allergist in the field of food allergies would look up what was written about this diagnosis in Wikipedia and correct any misinformation.  After all, it’s not that hard to change a Wikipedia article.  Perhaps you also hoped that no one would then go back and edit what the big-name person in the field of food allergies said.   Perhaps you hoped that no one would offer additional inaccurate edits afterwards.

If you thought this, you might have been wrong.  You would be just like me.  I was wrong. I was so wrong. I was shocked about how wrong I was, and how correct Wikipedia was it its statement that it's not a reliable source.  I should have looked previously about what Wikipedia said about FPIES.  

Now imagine a person who has relied mostly on Wikipedia for their medical information. Gosh!  With their head full of inaccurate information that they think is accurate, what kind of possible trouble could they get into? .  Would knowing inaccurate information and then using these inaccuracies to guide diagnosis or treatment hurt them or their child?   I fear the answer to this question. 

In the case of FPIES, the inaccurate information just couldn't be.  I was worried what harm might come out of sharing inaccuracies about a significant medical disease.  I went ahead and fixed the article. I'm glad that I was able to go through the article and correct it. At least for the time being, until other individuals make other edits, I'm OK with how the new Wikipedia article about FPIES looks at this moment. However, who is to say how long the article will stay accurate? After all, anyone can go ahead and edit the information after me.

This experience got me thinking about how people look for information. You tell me. Have you looked at your or your child's various symptoms and turned to an online search engine like Google? Have you tried to look at Wikipedia and learn about a potential medical diagnosis there? It's OK. I have been guilty of that too. I've used Wikipedia to look up what elderberry looked like after learning that it can contribute to a cytokine storm in someone who has COVID-19. I didn't want to take anything that could potentially increase my chances of a cytokine storm. Hence, I wanted to be pretty sure that I knew how to identify elderberry, and let me tell you! There aren't enough pictures. According to the few pictures that I found, elderberries look somewhat like raisins or do they?

That's the concern. Not everything that you look up online is as it appears.  When you are looking for medical information, you might stumble across sources that do more harm than good.  So where are better places to look for information instead?  Where can you verify what you have learned online? One place is at the doctor's office.  How about other places?  We will discuss them in the next post.   My hope is to give you research-based answers that are as medical accurate as I know. 


Three "legal" things:  First, either a male or a female could consider themselves to be a mother.  My job is to serve and not to judge.  Second, although I am a family physician, I am not your doctor or therapist.   Please see your and your child's doctor.  Third, the information presented here is for educational purposes only.  It does not constitute professional medical advice. 

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