Wikipedia and its role in science keeps cropping up on my radar recently. Matt Jukes pointed out last week, in a talk to a group of Science Communications people, that a decent article in Wikipedia about a science topic would reach a far bigger readership than printed booklets, newspaper articles, or webpages on our local websites. Hence if we want scientists to engage with the widest possible public and disseminate scientific knowledge most effectively, we should be encouraging them to start writing for Wikipedia.
A guest post by Dario Taraborelli on the Wellcome Trust blog alerted me to a questionnaire put out by the Wikimedia Research Committee to help it understand why scientists, academics and other experts do (or do not) contribute to Wikipedia. Dario makes some suggestions as to why scientists do not contribute
- the lack of incentives from the perspective of a professional career
- the poor recognition of one’s expertise within Wikipedia
- the widespread perception of Wikipedia as a non-authoritative source
WikiMedia UK is a body that supports the aims of Wikipedia and helps to “collect, develop and distribute freely licensed knowledge”. One of the ways it does this is by organising Wiki Academies. Matt Jukes describes his experience at one of these last weekend in Bristol. I was interested to see that Cancer Research UK (CRUK) are hosting a Wiki Academy for their staff soon. WikiMedia UK also have a program called GLAM-WIKI that aims to get galleries, libraries and museums involved in Wikipedia. And finally, the BBC reports that Imperial College is also getting in on the act with a Wiki Academy next month, recognising that Wikipedia is a resource that students use.
Wikipedia is an interesting phenomenon. In some ways it is hard to believe that the model can work – if you let anybody edit a page you would expect chaos to ensue. Wikipedia avoids chaos by enforcing a strict method with structures and controls. Many people still refuse to believe that Wikipedia does work and that it is a benefit to the information landscape.
I think Wikipedia is the cream of the interwebz. In a world of chaos it is organized. In a world of trash it is full of jewels. In a world of partisanship it attempts to remain unbiased. That is not to say that it is always the best of the best, rather that it has the potential to be good and if you use it with some caution (e.g. look to see whether the article you are interested in is well-referenced) then it is a useful information resource.
Broader participation of scientsits as Wikipedia contributors will make it more useful still.