"The wisdom of the crowds" isn't always wise - even that of online doctors


At a meeting of health bloggers at Consumer Reports in New York last week, there was a lively discussion that could have gone on for hours on the pros and cons of enabling "the wisdom of the crowd" to surface on health-related websites including blogs. In a very simplistic summary, those who promote such discussion say it democratizes the web and engages users in a "community" Those who have concerns are usually concerned about unmoderated discussions allowing quackery and downright harmful advice and information to be posted and remain online.

Consumer Reports' medical adviser Orly Avitzur, MD, mentioned one parallel concern: about the undue credibility that might be given to claims appearing on some physicians' websites.

Media Mill Video

The "wisdom of the crowds" is a complex topic, with many nuances.

Since I'm a journalist - from a traditional journalism background - the one area that I know gives me trouble is the news website that posts a story and user comments which are not moderated all the time. I have blogged about such a troublesome example I found in the New York Times. It's not hard to find many others.

(Please note: the video above is the first I've ever posted on this blog - after more than 4 years and more than 1,000 postings. It is an experiment. Let me know if you think such video clips are a good addition. There may be another tomorrow.)


There is no doubt that the "wisdom of the crowds" is a very complicated topic. With the onslaught of social networks (both general and healthcare related) it is becoming increasingly more difficult to find reliable and/or unbiased information.

Also, now that affiliate programs are making it easier for people to make a few bucks by spreading their links everywhere, the search engines are being poisoned with tons of links (with potentially false information) leading the results.

I'm not sure what my opinion is currently on crowd sourced medical information, I guess more research and testing is needed. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall during your conversation :)

BTW, I like the video format. It is much more personal and engaging.

Maybe every blog should have a disclaimer the way energy drinks and vitamines do. Something along the lines of "this blog is not designed to diagnose or cure and known illness or disease". I think that if someone can share their cure for hives from a stroll through the woods (warm bath in baking soda and benadryl) then nobody generally gets hurt. But if anybody believes that a website can diagnose the way my favorite TV Doctor "House" diagnoses then they need to get an appointment with a psychologist or a drug counselor!

Daniel Simmons

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Gary Schwitzer published on January 25, 2009 7:53 AM.

Spine surgeons group toughens disclosure policy was the previous entry in this blog.

Milwaukee paper keeps hammering on conflict of interest is the next entry in this blog.

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