January 27, 2016
John Timmer wrote an article for Ars Technica (December 29, 2015) on Wikipedia, where he shares his opinion that, “all of the worst entries I have ever read have been in the sciences. Wander off the big ideas in the sciences, and you’re likely to run into entries that are excessively technical and provide almost no context, making them effectively incomprehensible.” Timmer continues to say that,
“This failure [incomprehensible science entries] is a minor problem for Wikipedia, as most of the entries people rely on are fine. But I’d argue that it’s a significant problem for science. The problematic entries reinforce the popular impression that science is impossible to understand and isn’t for most people—they make science seem elitist. And that’s an impression that we as a society really can’t afford.” — John Timmer, December 2015
Add to Timmer’s comments a piece by Scott McLemee for Inside Higher Education, where he states, “Celebrate or hate it as you will, …Wikipedia has metamorphosed from its beginnings as a gangly cultural interloper into the de facto reference work of first resort.”
So what can we do if Wikipedia is the first stop for our students during the research process, even when we tell them not to go there? Can we play a part in making sure the science content in Wikipedia is solid and reliable and accessible to all? Wikipedia is stepping up to the plate and welcomes us to 2016, the Wikipedia Year of Science.
With major funding from Google and the Simons Foundation, the Wiki Education Foundation is using the Year in Science to “improve science content on 5,000 Wikipedia articles, enhance visual representation of science topics on Wikipedia, develop science communication skills among thousands of students, and improve the coverage of the lives and works of women scientists” (from the Monthly Report for December 2015).
Frank Schulenburg, WikiEdu’s Executive Director, issues a call in his blog post to all science faculty, graduate and undergraduate students, and librarians in the United States and Canada to improve Wikipedia as a resource. WikiEdu is providing print handbooks, online training, assignment templates, and several lines of support. He would like to see classroom assignments where students take on improving existing pages or adding new ones that do not yet exist. He is also looking for groups and organizations to work with them when they host virtual edit-a-thons to improve articles about women in science, emphasizing one field each month. Each of these edit-a-thons will provide a focused lists of articles to work on. For example, February’s theme is Zoology.
You can visit the Wikipedia:Year of Science to learn more details about their goals, events, and how to get involved.
Wikipedia is doing its part in acknowledging that their science articles, including pages on women in science, need work. Wikipedia is acknowledging that science students and faculty are the content experts that can improve these pages. So, are we as a community going get involved, or continue to ban our students from using Wikipedia as a source? Wikipedia is knocking – are we willing to answer during this Year of Science?
Additional sources for exploration
Eveleth, R. (2014, January 30). Medical Students Are Fixing Wikipedia Entries. Smithsonian.com (Article online)
Koh, A. (2013, May 30). How to Organize Your Own Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon. ProfHacker blog (The Chronicle of Higher Education) (blog post)
Koh, A. (2015, February 18). Integrating Wikipedia in your courses: tips and tricks. ProfHacker blog (The Chronicle of Higher Education) (blog post)
Koh, A. (2015, March 12). Teaching with Wikipedia? The Wiki Education Foundation Wants to Help!. ProfHacker blog (The Chronicle of Higher Education) (blog post)
Sherry, T. (2012, May 2). A noble cause: Repairing Wikipedia’s Geology articles. Upsection (blog post)
Sherry, T. (2014, January 15). Wikipedia Articles of Geology Enhancement Project. Upsection (blog post)