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Three Yale grads founded Rap Genius in 2009 as a community forum to analyze the meaning of rap lyrics of artists like Jay-Z and 2PAC, with the mission “to critique rap as poetry.” Now, the same team that brought lyrical interpretations of C4 as a metaphor for a rapper’s meteoric rise in popularity (or for cocaine) is educating you about CPR with its latest site Health Genius.

How Health Genius Works


Health Genius is an arm of News Genius, which was launched in May 2013 to help readers make sense of current affairs in the world, crowdsourcing relevant news articles, interviews, press releases and even recipes, à la Wikipedia. Any community members can highlight lines of text to annotate them, suggest changes and contribute their own material to News Genius. Users of Health Genius can read about how to perform CPR (a video tutorial is one of the annotations), learn about gout or the catch up on the latest study results on cloning of human stem cells.

Like Rap Genius and News Genius, Health Genius material can be annotated with studies, articles, essays, personal opinions or even images. The better the contribution, the more cred—or News IQ—you earn and accumulate, ultimately resulting in the ability to edit and annotate anything on the site.

An article on FDA’s approval of the Plan B emergency contraception without a prescription for those aged 15 and older, for example, has 13 annotations, from a definition and chemical model of the active ingredient in the contraception to a transcribed statement by U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. A News Editor/Poetry Editor contributed one notation, while community members provided most of the others, including an ABC News story and an op-ed from a major independent syndicate as sources. An FDA review of the health effects of menthol vs. non-menthol cigarettes, on the other hand, had 27 annotations all from News Genius editorial staff and was commented on by community members with no News IQ.

The Risks of Community-Generated Health Info


While there is no danger or risk involved with misinterpreting lyrics of rap (and now too also R&B, soul and rock) lyrics and poetry, there is of course concern whether the health news and medical information accessed on any web site is accurate. That’s where Genius verified users come into play. On Rap Genius, artists like 50 Cent and Wiz Khalifa can fix incorrect lyrics, for example. On News Genius, verified users are considered experts in the news community, including journalists and organizations like the ACLU. Health and fitness experts, like star trainers, are also being approached to contribute material to Health Genius, according to Greatist.

As the site is community moderated, erroneous annotations are either flagged or edited for accuracy. “Annotations can be aesthetically or factually bad,” Gavin Matthews, a News Genius editor told Greatist. “Aesthetically, it will get voted down and turned into something useful. A factually bad annotation will get removed.”

Fostering Community That Cares About Health


Health Genius is still in its budding stages, so has yet to build up the online community engagement or plethora of stories and annotations as its sister sites. A search for “flu shot,” for example, came up with 82 song results, including M.I.A.’s “Bird Flu” and lyrics that reference getting shot by a gun, yet yielded no health news results. However, it’s a positive sign to see that people are responding to higher brow material, such as controversial court decisions and stories with highly technical content.

Thirty-five people contributed to a list of McDonald’s full menu—offering nutrition data, as well as educating about the 'pink slime' of mechanically separated chicken and the chemical changes of a melted McFlurry. Perhaps in time Health Genius will feed a forum of engaged and informed citizens intelligently thinking about their health—and about how different legal and personal decisions affect it—as much as, if not more than, they ponder about the intent behind the lyrics on A$AP Rocky’s debut.

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