James Heilman

James Heilman
Born 1979/1980 (age 36–37)[1]
Saskatchewan, Canada
Citizenship Canada

Medical career

Profession Physician
Field Emergency medicine
Institutions East Kootenay Regional Hospital
University of British Columbia

James M. "Doc James" Heilman is a Canadian emergency room physician, Wikipedian, and advocate for the improvement of Wikipedia's health-related content. He encourages other clinicians to contribute to the online encyclopaedia.[2][3]

He is an active contributor to WikiProject Medicine, is a volunteer Wikipedia administrator, was the president of Wikimedia Canada between 2010 and 2013, and founded and was formerly the president of Wiki Project Med Foundation.[4][5][6][7][8] He is also the founder of WikiProject Medicine's Medicine Translation Task Force.[9] In June 2015, he was elected to the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees, a position which he held until he was removed on December 28, 2015.[10][11][12]

Heilman is a clinical assistant professor at the department of emergency medicine at the University of British Columbia,[13][14] and the head of the department of emergency medicine at East Kootenay Regional Hospital in Cranbrook, British Columbia, where he lives.[1][2] He often works the night shift in the emergency room at East Kootenay Regional Hospital.[14]

Early life and education

Heilman was born and raised in rural Saskatchewan.[15] He graduated from the University of Saskatchewan in 2000 with a Bachelor of Science in anatomy, and he subsequently earned his medical degree there in 2003.[2] He then completed his residency in British Columbia.[15]

Medical career

Heilman worked at Moose Jaw Union Hospital, a hospital in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, until 2010, when he began working at East Kootenay Regional Hospital,[2][16] where, in October 2012, he was appointed head of the department of emergency medicine.[2]


As of May 2014, Heilman was working on a study with Samir Grover, of the University of Toronto, which would assign medical students to take a test using either Wikipedia or medical textbooks to determine which is more accurate.[17] Heilman also worked on a study with Microsoft which found that in the three countries where the Ebola outbreak had the largest impact, Wikipedia was the most popular source for information about the disease.[18] In 2015, Heilman and Andrew West published a study which found that the number of Wikipedia editors who focused on editing medical articles decreased by 40 percent from 2008 to 2013.[19] These results, together with other detailed analyses about the production and consumption of medical content on Wikipedia, were published by the Journal of Medical Internet Research in 2015.[20]

Wikipedia and Wikimedia activities

Question and answer session with Dr. Heilman about editing Wikipedia at the University of British Columbia

Since the beginning of his activity as a contributor to medicine-related Wikipedia articles in 2008, Heilman has been promoting the improvement of medical content by encouraging fellow physicians to take part.[2] He became interested in editing Wikipedia on a slow night shift, when he looked up the article on obesity and found that it contained many errors. "I realized that I could fix it. I made a huge number of edits and improved the quality a great deal. I sort of became hooked from there," he told the Hamilton Spectator in 2011.[3]

Heilman takes part in an initiative through Wiki Project Med Foundation with Translators Without Borders, working to improve and translate English Wikipedia medical articles of top importance into minority languages.[21][22][23] The Wiki Project Med Foundation has started a collaboration with the University of California, San Francisco as a recruit for scientifically literate editors, by giving students college credit for improving medicine-related Wikipedia pages.[24] In 2014, the Wiki Project Med Foundation also partnered with the Cochrane Collaboration, with the goal of improving the reliability and accuracy of information on Wikipedia. With regard to this partnership, Heilman said, "The way Wikipedia works is that all content is to stand entirely on the references that are listed. If the best quality sources are used to write Wikipedia there's a good chance that Wikipedia will contain the best quality information."[25]

Heilman spoke at Wikimania 2014, where he said that 93% of medical students use Wikipedia, and argued that "fixing the internet" is now a critical task for anyone who cares about healthcare.[26]

Ebola contributions

By reviewing and correcting medical content in the manner promoted by Heilman (and with many of his contributions), in Wikipedia articles like that about Ebola, Wikipedia has become a source of information to the general public, thus being regarded among respected sites run by the World Health Organization[27] and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,[28] covering the topic.[4][29] Heilman reduced the time he spent working in the emergency room so he could spend more time updating this page.[30] In 2014, he told the Cranbrook Daily Townsman that with respect to Wikipedia's coverage of Ebola, “The big thing is emphasizing what we know, making sure that minor concerns don’t get blown out of proportion."[31] He also said that, despite rumours to the contrary, there was no evidence that the disease had become airborne, and that ebola had caused far fewer deaths than other conditions such as malaria and gastroenteritis.[31]

Rorschach test images

In 2009, Heilman, who was then a resident of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan,[32] added public domain images of the ink blots used in the Rorschach test to the Wikipedia article on the subject, and concerned psychologists said that this could invalidate the tests.[16][33][34] Some psychologists stated the test had "already lost its popularity and usefulness."[34] In an interview with The New York Times, Heilman stated that he added the entire set because a debate about a single image seemed absurd and psychologists' fears were unfounded.[35] Appearing on Canada AM on July 31, 2009, Heilman also said that "This information [i.e. the inkblots] is encyclopedic. This is what people expect to see when they see this page."[36] In August 2009, two Canadian psychologists filed complaints about Heilman to his local doctors' organization; Heilman called the complaints "intimidation tactics".[37] In September 2009, the College of Psychologists of British Columbia urged the Saskatchewan College of Physicians and Surgeons to launch an investigation into Heilman's posting of the images. Heilman told CTV News that "The psychological community is trying to exclude everybody outside their field from taking part in discussions related to what they do. And personally, I think that's bad science."[38] An extensive debate ensued on Wikipedia, and the images were kept.[35]

Textbook plagiarism

In 2012, Heilman noticed that the book Understanding and Management of Special Child in Pediatric Dentistry, published by Jaypee Brothers, contained a long passage about HIV that was plagiarized from Wikipedia's article on the subject.[21] This led to the book being withdrawn by the publisher.[39] In October 2014, when Heilman was reading a copy of the Oxford Textbook of Zoonoses (published by Oxford University Press), he noticed that the book's section on Ebola was very similar to the Wikipedia page on that subject.[19] Originally he suspected that a Wikipedia editor had copied from the textbook when writing the article.[19] However, he later noticed that the part of the Wikipedia article that resembled the part of the textbook had been written in 2006 and 2010, while the textbook had not been published until 2011.[19] Christian Purdy, an Oxford University Press spokesperson, acknowledged that some of the text in the textbook had been copied but described it as an “inadvertent omission of an appropriate attribution" rather than plagiarism.[19]

Tenure on the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees

In June 2015, Heilman was elected to the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees.[10] In December 2015, the Board removed Heilman from his position as a Trustee, a decision that generated controversy amongst members of the Wikipedia community.[11][40][41] A statement released by the board after Heilman was removed stated that he lacked the confidence of his fellow trustees. Heilman himself later said that he "was given the option of resigning [by the Board] over the last few weeks. As a community elected member I see my mandate as coming from the community which elected me and thus declined to do so. I saw such a move as letting down those who elected me."[42] Heilman subsequently pointed out that while on the Board, he had pushed for greater transparency regarding the Wikimedia Foundation's controversial Knowledge Engine project and its financing,[43] and indicated that his attempts to make public the Knight Foundation grant for the engine had been a factor in his dismissal.[44]


In 2012, Heilman was one of two Wikimedia contributors sued by Internet Brands for shifting freely licensed content and volunteer editors from the for-profit site Wikitravel to the non-profit site Wikivoyage. The Wikimedia Foundation defended Heilman's actions in the lawsuit, citing volunteer freedom of choice.[45][46] In February 2013 the parties settled their litigation.[47] In 2014, Heilman criticized a study which concluded that 9 out of 10 Wikipedia medical articles contained errors.[6][48] In 2015, the Atlantic ran a piece about conflict-of-interest editing on Wikipedia which detailed Heilman's efforts to counteract edits made by employees of Medtronic to the Wikipedia page for percutaneous vertebroplasty.[19]

Personal life

Heilman enjoys running ultramarathons and adventure racing,[16][49] and he and his girlfriend ran the Gobi March in 2008.[50] He has also run the Marathon des Sables, the Adventure Racing World Championships,[15] and the Saskatchewan Marathon.[51]


  1. 1 2 Laidlaw, Katherine (September 2013). "Is Google Making Us Sick?". Reader's Digest. Retrieved January 9, 2014.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Fleck, Fiona (January 1, 2013). "Online encyclopedia provides free health info for all." (PDF). Bulletin of the World Health Organization. World Health Organization. 91 (1): 8–9. doi:10.2471/BLT.13.030113. PMC 3537258Freely accessible. PMID 23397345.
  3. 1 2 Mcneil, Mark (October 4, 2011). "Wikipedia makes a house call to Mac". The Spec. Retrieved January 12, 2014.
  4. 1 2 Cohen, Noam (26 October 2014). "Wikipedia Emerges as Trusted Internet Source for Ebola Information". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 October 2014.
  5. Berko, Lex (2013). "Medical Students Can Now Earn Credit for Editing Wikipedia". Vice. Retrieved January 12, 2014.
  6. 1 2 Stephens, Pippa (28 May 2014). "Trust your doctor, not Wikipedia, say scientists". BBC News. Retrieved 9 December 2014.
  7. Trujillo, Maria (November 25, 2011). "Wikipedia and Higher Education – The Infinite Possibilities". University of British Columbia. Retrieved January 9, 2014.
  8. Bunim, Juliana. "UCSF First U.S. Medical School to Offer Credit For Wikipedia Articles". University of California, San Francisco. Retrieved January 12, 2014.
  9. Beck, Julie (5 March 2014). "Doctors' #1 Source for Healthcare Information: Wikipedia". The Atlantic. Retrieved 1 August 2015.
  10. 1 2 Varnum, Gregory (5 June 2015). "Wikimedia Foundation Board election results are in". Wikimedia blog. Retrieved 11 June 2015.
  11. 1 2 "Resolution:James Heilman Removal". Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees. 28 December 2015. Retrieved 29 December 2015.
  12. Kleinz, Torsten (29 December 2015). "Wikimedia Foundation feuert Vorstandsmitglied". Heise Online. Retrieved 1 January 2016.
  13. "James Heilman, MD, CCFP-EM". University of British Columbia. Retrieved April 19, 2016.
  14. 1 2 McClurg, Lesley; Brooks, Jon (3 November 2016). "Should You Use Wikipedia for Medical Information?". KQED. Retrieved 4 November 2016.
  15. 1 2 3 "Board of Trustees". Wikimedia Foundation. Retrieved 20 August 2015.
  16. 1 2 3 White, Patrick (July 29, 2009). "Rorschach and Wikipedia: The battle of the inkblots". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved January 12, 2014.
  17. Beck, Julie (7 May 2014). "Can Wikipedia Ever Be a Definitive Medical Text?". The Atlantic. Retrieved 30 March 2015.
  18. Murray, Terry (27 January 2015). "WikiProject Medicine Making Progress". CMAJ. Retrieved 30 January 2015.
  19. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Pinsker, Joe (11 August 2015). "The Covert World of People Trying to Edit Wikipedia—for Pay". The Atlantic. Retrieved 11 August 2015.
  20. Heilman, JM; West, AG (4 March 2015). "Wikipedia and medicine: quantifying readership, editors, and the significance of natural language.". Journal of medical Internet research. 17 (3): e62. doi:10.2196/jmir.4069. PMC 4376174Freely accessible. PMID 25739399.
  21. 1 2 Cohen, Noam (June 12, 2012). "Book That Plagiarized From Wikipedia Is Pulled From Market". New York Times. Retrieved January 14, 2014.
  22. Teigen, Sarah (October–November 2012). "Medical translations for minority languages" (PDF). Multilingual. Retrieved January 12, 2014 via TranslatorsWithoutBorders.org.
  23. Yeung, Lien (August 21, 2014). "Wikipedia's medical errors and one doctor's fight to correct them". CBC News.
  24. Sankin, Aaron (1 October 2013). "Doctors prescribe better editors for Wikipedia—themselves". The Daily Dot. Retrieved 6 April 2015.
  25. Ritger, Clara (20 February 2014). "Wikipedia Is a Massively Popular (Yet Untested) Doctor". National Journal. Retrieved 21 September 2014.
  26. Reisz, Matthew (14 August 2014). "Wikimania: student medics get credit for webside manner". Times Higher Education. Retrieved 12 January 2015.
  27. "WHO - Ebola virus disease". World Health Organization.
  28. "Ebola (Ebola virus disease)". Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  29. Judd, Amy (14 November 2014). "B.C. doctor part of team editing popular Wikipedia page on Ebola". Global News. Retrieved 7 February 2015.
  30. Sluizer, Jan (3 December 2014). "Medical Students Learn to Treat Ailing Wikipedia Entries". Voice of America. Retrieved 19 April 2015.
  31. 1 2 "Keeping the facts straight". Cranbrook Daily Townsman. 20 November 2014. Retrieved 13 August 2015.
  32. "Moose Jaw Doctor won't back down". mjtimes.sk.ca. Retrieved September 1, 2015.
  33. Sample, Ian (July 29, 2009). "Testing times for Wikipedia after doctor posts secrets of the Rorschach inkblots". The Guardian. Retrieved January 12, 2014.
  34. 1 2 "Sask. MD's Wikipedia posting of ink blots angers psychologists". CBC News. July 31, 2009. Retrieved January 9, 2014.
  35. 1 2 Cohen, Noam (July 28, 2009). "A Rorschach Cheat Sheet on Wikipedia?". The New York Times. Retrieved January 9, 2014.
  36. "Psychologists see red over inkblot test posting". CTV News. 31 July 2009. Retrieved 22 August 2015.
  37. Cohen, Noam (August 23, 2009). "Complaint Over Doctor Who Posted Inkblot Test". New York Times. Retrieved January 10, 2014.
  38. Canadian Press (3 September 2009). "B.C. College calls for Rorschach action". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 30 November 2014.
  39. "Mangalore professor in plagiarism row". New Indian Express. 11 November 2013. Retrieved 21 August 2015.
  40. "[Wikimedia-l] Announcement about changes to the Board". wikimedia.org. Retrieved January 7, 2016.
  41. Lih, Andrew (15 January 2016). "Wikipedia just turned 15 years old. Will it survive 15 more?". The Washington Post. Retrieved 16 January 2016.
  42. Orlowski, Andrew (12 January 2016). "Wikimedia Foundation bins community-elected trustee". The Register. Retrieved 27 January 2016.
  43. Noisette, Thierry. "Crise à la fondation Wikimedia : sa directrice démissionne". Nouvel Observateur.
  44. Koebler, Jason (15 February 2016). "The Secret Search Engine Tearing Wikipedia Apart". Vice. Retrieved 29 February 2016.
  45. Cohen, Noam (September 9, 2012). "Travel Site Built on Wiki Ethos Now Bedevils Its Owner". New York Times. Retrieved January 10, 2014.
  46. Morris, Kevin (September 6, 2012). "Wikimedia announces travel site, launches countersuit against competitor". The Daily Dot. Retrieved January 10, 2014.
  47. Musil, Steven (February 17, 2013). "Wikimedia, Internet Brands settle Wikivoyage lawsuits". CNET. Retrieved January 20, 2014.
  48. Chatterjee, Anwesh, Cooke, Robin M.T., Furst, Ian, Heilman, James (23 June 2014). "Is Wikipedia's medical content really 90% wrong?". Cochrane Collaboration. Retrieved 9 December 2014.
  49. O'Meara, Dina (24 April 2006). "Mind over mountain". Western Standard. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 20 March 2015.
  50. "Surviving the Gobi march". Moose Jaw Times-Herald. 4 July 2008. Retrieved 20 March 2015.
  51. "28th Annual Saskatchewan Marathon". Saskatoon StarPhoenix. 29 May 2006. Retrieved 22 August 2015.
  52. Mathew, Manu; Joseph, Anna; Heilman, James; Tharyan, Prathap (October 22, 2013). "Cochrane and Wikipedia: The collaborative potential for a quantum leap in the dissemination and uptake of trusted evidence". Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 10: ED000069. doi:10.1002/14651858.ED000069. PMID 24475488.
  53. Heilman, James (2012). "Creating awareness for using a wiki to promote collaborative health professional education". International Journal of User-Driven Healthcare. 2 (1): 86–7. doi:10.4018/ijudh.2012010113.
  54. Heilman, James M. (October 2014). "Dengue fever: a Wikipedia clinical review". Open Medicine. 8 (3): 105–115.
  55. Heilman, J (August 2015). "Open Access to a High-Quality, Impartial, Point-of-Care Medical Summary Would Save Lives: Why Does It Not Exist?". PLoS Medicine. 12 (8): e1001868. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001868. PMC 4549298Freely accessible. PMID 26305335.
  56. Heilman, James M.; Kemmann, Eckhard; Bonert, Michael; Chatterjee, Anwesh; et al. (January 31, 2011). "Wikipedia: A key tool for global public health promotion". Journal of Medical Internet Research. 13 (1): e14. doi:10.2196/jmir.1589. PMC 3221335Freely accessible. PMID 21282098.
  57. Heilman, James M; West, Andrew G (4 March 2015). "Wikipedia and Medicine: Quantifying Readership, Editors, and the Significance of Natural Language". Journal of Medical Internet Research. 17 (3): e62. doi:10.2196/jmir.4069. PMC 4376174Freely accessible. PMID 25739399.
  58. Heilman, James (September 2011). "Why we should all edit Wikipedia" (PDF). University of British Columbia Medical Journal. 3 (1): 32–3. Retrieved December 29, 2015.
  59. Azzam, A; Bresler, D; Leon, A; Maggio, L; Whitaker, E; Heilman, J; Orlowitz, J; Swisher, V; Rasberry, L; Otoide, K; Trotter, F; Ross, W; McCue, JD (13 September 2016). "Why Medical Schools Should Embrace Wikipedia: Final-Year Medical Student Contributions to Wikipedia Articles for Academic Credit at One School.". Academic Medicine. doi:10.1097/ACM.0000000000001381. PMID 27627633.
  60. Masukume, G; Kipersztok, L; Das, D; Shafee, TM; Laurent, MR; Heilman, JM (November 2016). "Medical journals and Wikipedia: a global health matter.". The Lancet Global Health. 4 (11): e791. doi:10.1016/S2214-109X(16)30254-6. PMID 27765289.
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