Jay-Z and Scarface: pharma staff’s anonymous Wikipedia interests

By Fiona Barry

- Last updated on GMT

Jay-Z and Scarface: pharma staff’s anonymous Wikipedia interests

Related tags Eli lilly Pharmacology Pharmaceutical industry

Big pharma employees are among the brightest minds in the world, and data released yesterday on their Wikipedia use shows their interests spread beyond drug development into lighter fare.

Using data compiled by the automated Twitter account @PhRMAedits​ and open source enthusiast Jari Bakken​, in-Pharmatechnologist.com took a look at anonymous edits to Wikipedia articles which @PhRMAedits says were made from the computers of big pharma companies.

Bakken used Google BigQuery's Wikipedia revision history​ to find 4047 edits between 2002 and 2010 from IP addresses identified by @PhRMAedits as belonging to Eli Lilly, Pfizer and other members of the body Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).

IP addresses are unique numbers assigned to computers within a network using the same internet server.

Who owns which IPs is already publicly available information maintained by Regional Internet Registries,​” Bakken told us.

Anyone can do a WHOIS [an internet look-up tool] query to find the owner. Usually it’s an internet provider with a large number of subscribers, but it’s not uncommon for corporations or governments to essentially act as their own internet providers, and own big blocks of the IP space. That’s what we rely on to identify the edits.”

In the case of the edits [made by PhRMA member companies], the actual IPs were found by the owner of the @phrmaedits, and can be seen here. I didn’t have any hand in that, I just did the historical data extraction.​”

Honey I Shrunk the Kids

The list of edits shows an enormous range of interests by pharmaceutical employees.

Ludwig I's beer tax sparked riots.

Some of the changes linked to pharmaceutical servers were made to articles about drug development​, drug companies themselves​, and medicines​.

Others reflected less predictable hobbies for pharma staff, including Beer Riots in Bavaria​ (linked to an address identified by @PhRMAedits as belonging to Pfizer), Honey, I shrunk the Kids: The TV Show​ (believed to originate from Eli Lilly computers), Goldfish Scooping​ (Pennsylvanian drug developer CSL Behring), and the Olive baboon​ (Irish firm Alkermes).

The only page seemingly edited from Amgen’s premises in the eight-year period is that belonging to the Olympic gold medallist Mitch Gaylord​, which was modified seven times.

Sci-fi fans

As might be expected from scientific organisations, articles about sci-fi television and films were shown to be heavily edited, with Star Trek​ and the 2004 TV series Battlestar Galactica​ receiving edits from Pfizer-linked addresses. Pfizer staff do not appear to be interested in the original 1978 series.

Onyx’s sci-fi activity lay elsewhere, with one Wikipedia user contributing to a page listing Fictional Spacecraft​, adding examples from the sci-fi video game Mass Effect. The data shows a server matched with Onyx Pharmaceuticals also edited a List of Fiction containing Teleportation​ and capitalised “Hellmouth​” in a page relating to the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer​.

Jay-Z vs Bob Dylan

Those trying to build up a picture of the personalities of staff at different pharmaceutical companies are informed that Eli Lilly appears to be a company of dog-lovers, with an edit to the page on Lhasa Poo​ – a cross between a mini poodle and a Lhasa Apso.

Pfizer staffers seem to have higher-brow interests, with edits to pages on Kurt Vonnegut’s anti-war masterpiece Slaughterhouse-Five​ and the Socratic Method​.

Jay-Z Joella Marano
Jay-Z: Boehringer Ingelheim may be a fan. (Picture credit: Joella Marano)

Musical tastes varied between companies: judging by the origin of edits, Lilly staff appear to like London Calling​, the Clash’s 1979 double album, Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks​, Pachelbel’s Canon​, and Fred Durst​, lead singer of Limp Bizkit, and the Newcomers’ 1970 Bubblegum Pop​ hit “Pin the Tail on the Donkey.​”

Pfizer staff may have made changes to entries on Gershwin’s Summertime​ and controversial hard rock guitarist Ted Nugent​, clarifying that his reality TV chainsaw accident which required 44 stitches in fact occurred at Nugent’s home in Michigan and not in Texas.

Boehringer Ingelheim seems to have at least one hip-hop fan on its payroll, with multiple edits to articles on Jay-Z​, Nas​ and 50 Cent​. An editor made a correction to Jay-Z’s page, to make clear that Mr Beyoncé was raised by his stepmother, and not his single mother.

In contrast with the bigger pharmaceutical players, Purdue Pharma’s interests were more austere, with interest in the French fractal mathematician Gaston Julia​ and the War of 1812​.

Although the data helps to build a picture for those curious about the inner lives of pharma employees, some items will remain a mystery.

National Doughnut Day​ (Pfizer), Ménage à Trois​ (Lilly), the Socialist Soviet Republic of Abkhazia​ (Lilly again), Asshole​ (Pfizer), and Macedonia and Greece’s contributions to the Eurovision Song Contest​ (Pfizer) attest to the wide-ranging minds of big pharma.

Bakken told us he plans to add pharmaceutical data from the last four years and from Wikipedia sites in other languages soon. He added that, while most sites tracking Wikipedia edits concentrate on political IP addresses, “it's great that transparency initiatives like these are being brought to the private sector. Governments are not the only centres of power.​”

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