Wikipedia, AstraZeneca and Seroquel

August 15, 2007 at 1:39 am 18 comments

[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 156.70.222.27 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 156.70.222.27? Type this into a whois search like the one at GeekTools and you’ll find out:

OrgName: AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals LP
NetRange: 156.70.0.0 – 156.70.255.255

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.

Before the AstraZeneca Edit

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…

The AstraZeneca Version

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.

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18 Comments Add your own

  • 1. aikaterine  |  August 15, 2007 at 10:33 am

    I knew that wikipedia was at risk for this sort of thing, but I never expected it to be so blatant.

    Yet one more thing to be disappointed in.

  • 2. darkentries  |  August 15, 2007 at 5:37 pm

    As if we needed more

  • 3. anonymous mom  |  August 15, 2007 at 6:55 pm

    oh my god, that is horrifying. it really is.

    also horrifying is how stupid these people must be to not know they can be traced.

  • 4. Janet  |  August 16, 2007 at 12:32 am

    That’s scary. I wonder if they’ve done the same with Geodon because it doesn’t say anything on there about pseudo-parkinsons, which I developed on it.

  • 5. experimental chimp  |  August 16, 2007 at 3:06 am

    To be fair, pseudo-parkinsons is part of the extrapyramidal symptoms that all antipsychotics can cause. The atypicals, like Geodon, are less likely to cause these kinds of symptoms, but they do still happen.

    I did look through the Pfizer edits. There weren’t a few minor edits to the Pfizer page, but nothing very questionable. Like all the pharmaceutical companies I’ve checked, with the exception of Hoffmann-La Roche, there were many, many edits to completely unrelated pages. The amount of company time that various pharmaceutical employees are wasting on Wikipedia is amazing.

  • 6. Sid  |  August 16, 2007 at 7:22 am

    Linked over here from someone elses site. I don’t “wiki” much and have never looked up any of the meds I’ve taken on that site, but it is scary to think that information about medications is being edited by the pharma companies. I see a major conflict of interest in that. Hopefully someone else will go back and provide the FULL information, not the sterilized version that big pharma is hoping we’ll believe and not question.

  • 7. eleanor  |  August 17, 2007 at 2:20 pm

    Are you keeping a good record of what you find? It’d be really interesting to have somewhere which records these sort of edits, as it’s so crucial to the neutrality of important pages like these

  • 8. experimental chimp  |  August 17, 2007 at 8:22 pm

    Eleanor: This has become fairly significant news now. See: Wired’s list of interesting edits.

    I think someone independently discovered the seroquel edit and added it to the list. The Times Online have a report about this (and other edits) here.

  • [...] 17, 2007 So the AstraZeneca edits to Seroquel page on Wikipedia have become a controversy. Turns out there’s more, covering a large number of antipsychotics. [...]

  • 10. eleanor  |  August 20, 2007 at 1:47 pm

    ah yes, thanks

  • 11. Gabriel...  |  August 22, 2007 at 4:50 am

    Wikiscanner is going to be an interesting tool right up to the point — I’d say next week — where the Black Hats remember there’s a thing called “an Internet Cafe”.

  • 12. experimental chimp  |  August 22, 2007 at 3:10 pm

    Gabriel: The thing is, anyone smart is presumably already employing people to do this kind of thing (along with astroturfing and so on. I’m fairly sure that many large pharmaceutical companies do this anyway.

    So what we’re picking up here are the idiots. It’s always been possible to trace these edits, wikiscanner just does it on a massive scale.

  • 13. Gabriel...  |  August 22, 2007 at 4:21 pm

    There was a news thingee just a few days ago… politicians in Wikianada and Wikimerica have been locked in WikiBattles ever since Wiki was Wikiduced to the Wikiublic. Since Wiki was basically Wikinonymous there was no Wikiroof. But once WikiScanner came online all the WikiWars were Wikiposed. All of the Wikichanges were being made from inside the Wikiovernments offices. Sometimes thousands of Wikichanges to a single Wikipost in a matter of Wikinutes.

    Astroturfing is wicked cool as a PR tool… it’s something we used to joke about back in 2000 when I was working for an agency.

  • 14. experimental chimp  |  August 22, 2007 at 4:28 pm

    You’re Wikidding?

  • [...] Wikipedia, AstraZeneca and Seroquel [...]

  • [...] &#87ikip&#101dia, As&#116raZ&#101n&#101ca and &#83&#101r&#111qu&#101l [...]

  • 18. Bipolar I - Rapid Cycling  |  October 30, 2011 at 6:34 am

    Somehow this doesn’t surprise me. What I find truly sad, however, is that for pretty much every big seller, drug companies lie/BS/conveniently-forget-to-mention, and incur massive legal fees. Looks like the legal fees have become a cost of doing business for the drug companies. The government and drug companies win, and the victims (and their families) lose. My question is why isn’t anyone going to jail??? They execute people frequently for 1 or 2 murders, and AstraZeneca, GsK, Lilly, Pfizer, etc. ALL have committed many more murders by knowingly suppressing information.

    Maybe change will happen if we start slaughtering some CEOs :)

    Also, one thing of note is that I highly doubt that antipsychotics act as… well, antipsychotics. They are designed to suppress the symptoms of a disorder, NOT to treat it. They are called “major tranquilizers” for a reason. After doing some research, I’ve come to the firm conclusion that antipsychotics are designed to simply marginalize a vulnerable population. It’s like when lobotomies were once commonly used as a cure-all for anyone difficult. But those are unethical. Tranquilizing them with neuroleptics is acceptably ethical though!

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they don’t have legitimate uses, but are vastly overprescribed to anyone who is difficult. Or a free-thinker. Because it’s bad to believe in different things than the majority. I don’t believe psychiatry is a pseudoscience, but as a science, it is one of the most corrupt branches.

    I’m honestly freaked out at the idea of taking my Seroquel… Vastly considering flushing it right now…

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Hi, I'm James. I'm a 26 year old guy from England with bipolar disorder (currently well controlled). I also have a circadian rhythm sleep disorder (not so well controlled). This blog has charted my journey from mental illness, through diagnosis and, recently, into recovery. It's not always easy, but then, what is?

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