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October 21, 2009

Time to Get Wiki?

by Emily Laut

sfn2009

CREDIT: Wikimedia Foundation

The Wikipedia entry for "neuroscience" looks all right at first glance, but after attending a session on Monday, I knew otherwise. Two enthusiastic scientists turned Wikipedia Academy volunteers, Bill Wedemeyer and Tim Vickers, explained that Wikipedia articles get grades for completeness and readability and that the "neuroscience" article earns only a middling grade. I later visited the entry's discussion page and learned that editors feel it's incomplete, missing the history of neuroscience and exposition on topics such as neurosurgery and methods. Many other entries about neuroscience could use a boost, too; "neurogenetics" is summarized in a single "stub" paragraph, earning what amounts to a failing grade.

The Society for Neuroscience (SfN) thinks Wikipedia neuroscience ought to be better and has called for its members to edit Wikipedia, working on the premise that the more the public knows about neuroscience, the more votes and dollar support they'll throw behind research and the more bright people will want to work in the field. Vickers said that as the Internet's seventh most visited site and most people's first stop for information, Wikipedia is a public outreach powerhouse. He noted that in the days after news broke about the H1N1 influenza virus outbreak earlier this year, the H1N1 Wikipedia entry had 1.3 million readers a day. With so large a readership, Vickers argues, it's important for neuroscience on Wikipedia to be complete and accurate. Wedemeyer said scientists have a calling--even an ethical obligation--to share their knowledge.

But even if editing Wikipedia is the right thing to do, scientists may have good reasons for not wanting to get involved. Neuroscientist Chris Lossin of UC Davis pointed out that editing a Wikipedia article is time-consuming, and young scientists need to spend their time publishing articles for their tenure files.  And until there's a way to give scientists legitimate credit for their work, editing Wikipedia may seem like charity. (Also see this post on the Drug Monkey blog for an account of one scientist's frustrations with Wikipedia editing.)

Even so, many of the 30 or so attendees came specifically to learn to become active neuroscience Wikipedians. Anyone who missed it and wants to learn more can visit the sites for the Wikipedia Academy, the SfN Wikipedia Initiative, and an independent project called WikiProject Neuroscience, led by neuroscientist and Wikipedian Bill Skaggs, who also spoke at the session.


2 Comments

Writing in wikipedia shouldn't be taken as charity. Instead, it should be embraced because it indeed has quite a readership and if proper facts and information are to be communicated to the public, getting them into wikipedia seem as one of the best ways.

Scientists shouldn't be too selfish in thinking that what matters the most is how many papers they publish. What matters the most is that the research they are doing is properly communicated so that, at the end of the day, the whole population benefits.

I'm sure someone's already pointed this out, but sharing your expertise on Wikipedia isn't completely credit-less. All of that information has to be cited and linked elsewhere, so even if scientists' names aren't on Wiki articles, they can still put in information and then link to review articles that they wrote.

We should incentivize neuroscientists to edit Wikipedia by playing up the exposure that they can get for their writing elsewhere. (Provide that the writing is good, of course, and actually deserves to be on Wikipedia--which shouldn't be an issue for a scientist who may be the only person in his/her field working on a given problem.)