Can pharma companies edit Wikipedia?

Recently, I’ve received plenty of e-mails asking whether pharma companies can or should edit Wikipedia entries about their own products. Here is a quick summary of what the medical Wikipedia community thinks about that:

The Wikipedia:Conflict of interest guideline addresses this, while Wikipedia:Neutral point of view and Wikipedia:Username policy are also relevant.

Disclosure of COI is not required by any Wikipedia policy.

  • Some editors have voluntarily chosen to disclose a conflict of interest by including their employers’ names in their account names, e.g., all these folks from GlaxoSmithKline. More self-identify on their user pages.
  • Self-identification is a two-edged sword: You get points from most users for being honest, but a few will use it to harrass editors. See, e.g., User:James Cantor, a world-class expert on pedophilia, who has been chastised by a handful of (minority-view-holding) editors for not re-re-re-re-disclosing his “conflict of interest” every single time he edits certain pages.
  • Corporate IP addresses are highly traceable. An employee editing from the office should assume that s/he’s hung a big sign on the edit saying “I’m part of a pharmaceutical conspiracy”.
  • Some employers require disclosure, and a few believe it illegal for their employees to edit these pages. (I believe the idea runs like this: We are legally required to say only X about this product; if we change the Wikipedia page, we are legally required to say only X on the Wikipedia page; if the page says anything beyond X, then we’re in violation of the law.) So employees and contractors should check with their employers.

Wikipedia does not prohibit people in the pharmaceutical industry from editing articles. (WP:PAID failed) However, there are strategies that reduce conflict:

  • Vandalism = bad. As far as we’re concerned, anyone is welcome to fix it, even people who work for a pharmaceutical company.
  • Correct serious errors, but leave the fine points to others.
  • Propose sources and improvements on the talk pages.
  • Read WP:MEDRS, especially the bits about not paying too much attention to single studies.
  • Read WP:MEDMOS, especially the bits about not providing medical advice, instructions to patients, or dosage information.
  • Remember that Wikipedia is not a patient guide or drug formulary. Employees might be in a unique position to provide background and historical information, which we very much want. We’d love for every page about a drug to contain some information about its regulatory status around the world, its development, its manufacturing process, and its commercial history (e.g., which companies have worked on it and what its annual sales are).
  • Come to WT:PHARM to get help.

A new essay is being developed right now. See more details at Wikipedia:Conflicts of interest (medicine).