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References that anyone can edit: review of Wikipedia citations in peer reviewed health science literature

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: (Published 06 March 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g1585
  1. M Dylan Bould, staff anesthesiologist1,
  2. Emily S Hladkowicz, research assistant2,
  3. Ashlee-Ann E Pigford, research assistant2,
  4. Lee-Anne Ufholz, director3,
  5. Tatyana Postonogova, research associate4,
  6. Eunkyung Shin, research assistant5,
  7. Sylvain Boet, staff anesthesiologist6
  1. 1Department of Anesthesiology, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, University of Ottawa, 401 Smyth Road, Ottawa, ON, Canada, K1H 8L1
  2. 2Department of Anesthesiology, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, Ottawa
  3. 3Health Sciences Library, University of Ottawa, Ottawa
  4. 4Allan Waters Family Simulation Centre, Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, St Michael’s Hospital, Toronto, ON, Canada
  5. 5Department of Surgery, St Michael’s Hospital, University of Toronto, Toronto
  6. 6Department of Anesthesiology, The Ottawa Hospital, University of Ottawa, Ottawa
  1. Correspondence to: M D Bould dbould{at}
  • Accepted 10 February 2014


Objectives To examine indexed health science journals to evaluate the prevalence of Wikipedia citations, identify the journals that publish articles with Wikipedia citations, and determine how Wikipedia is being cited.

Design Bibliometric analysis.

Study selection Publications in the English language that included citations to Wikipedia were retrieved using the online databases Scopus and Web of Science.

Data sources To identify health science journals, results were refined using Ulrich’s database, selecting for citations from journals indexed in Medline, PubMed, or Embase. Using Thomson Reuters Journal Citation Reports, 2011 impact factors were collected for all journals included in the search.

Data extraction Resulting citations were thematically coded, and descriptive statistics were calculated.

Results 1433 full text articles from 1008 journals indexed in Medline, PubMed, or Embase with 2049 Wikipedia citations were accessed. The frequency of Wikipedia citations has increased over time; most citations occurred after December 2010. More than half of the citations were coded as definitions (n=648; 31.6%) or descriptions (n=482; 23.5%). Citations were not limited to journals with a low or no impact factor; the search found Wikipedia citations in many journals with high impact factors.

Conclusions Many publications are citing information from a tertiary source that can be edited by anyone, although permanent, evidence based sources are available. We encourage journal editors and reviewers to use caution when publishing articles that cite Wikipedia.


  • Contributors: MDB and SB were involved in the conception and design of the study, the analysis of the data, and critical review of the manuscript. ESH was involved in the conception and design of the study, the analysis and interpretation of data, and critical review of the manuscript. AEP was involved in the analysis and interpretation of data and drafted the manuscript. LU was involved in the conception and design of the study, interpretation of the data, and critical review of the manuscript. TP and ES were involved in collection and analysis of data and critically revised the manuscript. All authors had full access to all data and reviewed the final version to be published. MDB and SB are the guarantors.

  • Funding: The study was funded by the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Department of Anesthesiology, University of Ottawa, and the Ottawa Hospital Department of Anesthesiology, University of Ottawa. The funding sources had no role in the study design; the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data; or the writing of the article and the decision to submit it for publication.

  • Competing interests: All authors have completed the ICMJE uniform disclosure form at and declare: no support from any organisation for the submitted work; no financial relationships with any organisations that might have an interest in the submitted work in the previous three years; no other relationships or activities that could appear to have influenced the submitted work.

  • Ethical approval: Not needed. All the data presented are in the public domain. Citation information and full text articles were acquired through the ISI Web of Science and Scopus databases. As the accepted practice is not to seek consent to report on information in the public domain, we did not do so for this study, and nor did we seek approval from our research ethics board.

  • Transparency: The lead author (MDB) affirms that this manuscript is an honest, accurate, and transparent account of the study being reported; that no important aspects of the study have been omitted; and that any discrepancies from the study as planned (and, if relevant, registered) have been explained.

  • Data sharing: No additional data available.

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