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The Internet’s Dizzying Citogenesis Problem

Two weeks ago, Dr. James Heilman discovered something strange. The Canadian emergency room physician and avid Wikipedia contributor noticed that DrugBank, an online database for drug information, was copying text directly from Wikipedia. Although Heilman considers Wikipedia’s medical content to be of surprisingly good quality, he was concerned—because he didn’t just find DrugBank copying and citing Wikipedia; he had also found several examples of Wikipedia likewise copying and citing DrugBank.

For example, the DrugBank page for protamine sulfate, a medication often used in heart surgery, included information taken from the medication’s Wikipedia page. But the medication’s Wikipedia page cited the medication’s DrugBank page. This circular referencing created a problem for proving the veracity of the information found on the Wikipedia page—where was the original source material really from? Could it be trusted? Heilman found five other Wikipedia articles about medications with similarly circular references, and he speculated that there could be many more. He contacted DrugBank about the issues, and they are working to resolve them. Meanwhile, Heilman (known by the Wikipedia username “Doc James”) expressed concern on the WikiProject Medicine talk page—the forum where Wikipedia editors discuss improvements to articles about medicine and health—that “citogenesis has become a reality.”


The most infamous cases of citogenesis are those that resulted in the widespread distribution of a falsehood in news media. The list of such confirmed incidents of citogenesis ranges from the quirky, like a joke about the inventor of the butterfly stroke that ended up in the Guardian, to the more significant, like important biographical discrepancies. In December 2016, an anonymous user edited Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s Wikipedia page to state that Pompeo had served in the Gulf War. The false claim was repeated in outlets such as the Wall Street Journal and the New Yorker until, in April 2018, the CIA confirmed that Pompeo did not in fact serve in the Gulf War.


Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 10-Mar-19 01:06 by Nolondil.

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Subject Views Written By Posted
Citogenesis - the Internet's circular reasoning problem 1753 Nolondil 09-Mar-19 22:44
Re: Citogenesis - the Internet's circular reasoning problem 147 Race Jackson 20-Mar-19 22:58
Re: Citogenesis - the Internet's circular reasoning problem 136 Brian Patterson 22-Mar-19 01:49
Re: Citogenesis - the Internet's circular reasoning problem 134 WhoWeird 22-Mar-19 15:59
Re: Citogenesis - the Internet's circular reasoning problem 159 Lost_In_Place 23-Mar-19 01:21
Re: Citogenesis - the Internet's circular reasoning problem 142 Nolondil 23-Mar-19 14:44
Disease warfare 140 Race Jackson 28-Mar-19 15:05
Re: Disease warfare 202 Lost_In_Place 01-Apr-19 23:06

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