[The second part of this story is at: Astrazeneca and Wikipedia: More Edits Uncovered]
I’ve been playing with an interesting new tool called Wikiscanner, intended to “list anonymous wikipedia edits from interesting organisations”. I’ve been looking at what kind of information various pharmaceutical companies put into Wikipedia anonymously. After all, Wikipedia has become a lot of people’s source of choice, at least as a starting point for further research.
My first reaction to being prescribed a drug is to look it up on Wikipedia. For an encyclopedia that can be edited by anyone, it’s often very accurate. The basic idea is that with enough eyes, each article converges on the truth (or at least the verifiable). So it’s a little disconcerting when you find out that large sections of an article about a certain drug were written by someone who works for the company that makes it.
In a series of edits on the 11th July, a user with the IP address 126.96.36.199 made a number of changes to the wikipedia article on Seroquel. An IP address is a unique number given to a computer on the internet. When your computer connects to the internet, either through dial-up or broadband, your ISP assigns one that it owns for your computer to use. Big companies usually have their own pool of IP addresses for their own networks.
So who is 188.8.131.52? Type this into a whois search like the one at GeekTools and you’ll find out:
OrgName: AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals LP
NetRange: 184.108.40.206 – 220.127.116.11
You can see the changes that the AstraZeneca employee made below. They involve a shift in emphasis from the drug being “approved” to “indicated” and the deletion of a quote from a National Institute of Health recommendation that teenagers taking the drug may be at risk of self-harm and suicide.
Quetiapine has the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and international approvals for the treatment of schizophrenia, treatment as an adjunct to either Lithium or Divalproex, and acute mania in bipolar disorder. Quetiapine was first approved by the FDA in 1997. In October 2006, Seroquel was also approved by the FDA for the treatment of depressive episodes associated with Bipolar I (or Bipolar-II) Disorder and is the only agent approved for this indication as a single agent monotherapy. Despite a general National Institutes of Health recommendation against its use in children or those under 18, as well as a known risk that teenagers taking the drug “may be more likely to think about harming or killing themselves or to plan or try to do so”, Seroquel is controversially marketed to parents of moody and irritable teenagers in magazines such as Parade and TV Guide…
SEROQUEL is indicated for the treatment of schizophrenia as well as for the treatment of acute manic episodes associated with bipolar I disorder, as either monotherapy or adjunct therapy to lithium or divalproex. SEROQUEL received its initial indication from the FDA for treatment of Schizophrenia in 1997. In 2004, it received its second indication for the treatment of Mania associated Bipolar Disorder. Seroquel is controversially marketed to parents of moody and irritable teenagers in magazines such as Parade and TV Guide…
I’m not arguing about the accuracy of the information. What concerns me is the fact that a representative of a company who has a financial interest in the drug in question has anonymously shifted the emphasis of the article, which seems completely inappropriate to me. Editing Wikipedia should make it a better encyclopedia, not push corporate interests.
Also for Mark Senak!
Isn't the web wonderful!?