Sunday, February 26, 2006

Flu Wiki makes the news

The Flu Wiki makes news. Malcolm Ritter, AP Science Writer, interviewed our publisher and wiki partner Melanie Mattson of Just a Bump in the Beltway, and wrote a great story about the site. Of the three founders, the Reveres, DemFromCT (The Next Hurrah, a Koufax Best New Blog finalist) and Melanie, the Reveres are the least involved on a day to day basis. We were joined early on by pogge (of pogge blog fame), our technical guru who deserves more praise than I can adequately give. Dem has policed and contributed to the Forum Discussions on a daily basis while still holding down his home base at The Next Hurrah and leading a busy life in the real world. Melanie has been the publisher par excellance in more ways I can count, tangible and intangible. And I have throughly enjoyed basking in their reflected glory.

And glory it is. The AP reporter went to a couple of very "establishment" flu experts who essentially gave FW their seal of approval. Remember, academics are like dogs (I know because I am one). We like to pee on things just to mark our territory, so we were pleased with their comments (there was of course the obligatory dribble on us, but we don't mind). Here is what they said:
And Flu Wiki, the Virginia resident [Melanie] said, is "probably the most complete authority in English on pandemic influenza on the Internet."

Even for a site with more than 1,200 pages of content, that's a bold claim. The field includes not only an official U.S. government site,, but also others from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization. There are also plenty of bloggers who focus on flu.

But Flu Wiki also offers the wisdom of its expert contributors, Mattson said.

She can't identify them publicly, mostly because they fear losing federal money for giving opinions that clash with the Bush administration, she said. The disagreements aren't so much on the basic science of bird flu, but rather on what to do about it.

Flu Wiki, which averages up to 5,000 hits a day, impressed some flu experts who examined it recently at the request of The Associated Press.

Dr. Arnold S. Monto of the University of Michigan said he found the site's information reliable in general. Such sites can provide "a single place for people to go who want to get information which they may have to troll for in some of the official sites," he said.

Peter Cowen of North Carolina State University, moderator of a disease-monitoring Web site sponsored by the International Society for Infectious Diseases, said he had mixed feelings about Flu Wiki.

"In general they have a lot of good information," but some of the site's links lead to places with information of questionable value, Cowen said. Still, on balance, he said, "it looks pretty good." (AP via Newsday)
The "disease-monitoring Web site" Cowen is associated with is ProMed. Also lots of good information but on occasion some if-fy links. That's what you have to live with in a fast changing situation where the scope and pace of information from official channels are narrow and slow.

Anyway, Flu Wiki is now a community project, where the community is the whole world. Major portions have already been translated into French, Spanish and Turkish. A Norwegian version has just debuted (all are accessible from Flu Wiki's front page). We have had many dedicated posters contributing tirelessly to provide a huge body of content, links and stimulating discussion. If you haven't visited, now's the time. You'll have lots of company. We are now getting in excess of 5000 visits a day. You can find some of the Wiki's early history in posts I did here, here, here, here and here.

The Wiki is a collective effort. Anyone can contribute, even in minor ways like copy editing or supplying links. We have turned the keys to the car over to you. Drive responsibly and take us places we all need to go to get us ready for what might come.