7 October 2016

The value of Wikipedia in science

Posted by Shane Hanlon

By Shane M Hanlonyear-of-science-logo

When going through the program of the AAAS annual meeting earlier this year, I came across something called a Wikipedia edit-a-thon. I was intrigued – I thought that Wikipedia was a science foe, not a science friend. The first thing we learned in college science classes was not to cite anything from Wikipedia (still true – don’t cite the website). However, that was a while ago and I figured that if Wikipedia had a presence at AAAS then this would be something worth looking into. So I went to the edit-a-thon and realized that the event was actually just what the (PhD) doctor ordered.

Wikipedia edit-a-thons are events where folks get together and collectively edit parts of Wikipedia. They can be organized independently by organizations/institutions or by Wikipedia-associated organizations like the Wiki Educational Foundation (Wiki Edu) and Wikimedia chapters.

Regardless of your perception of Wikipedia, when you search for a topic online, an entry from Wikipedia is oftentimes the first thing to pop up. If we want the general public who search for scientific terms to get reliable information, we as a community need to ensure that Wikipedia’s content is reliable and full of appropriate references that people can follow to identify primary sources and get more information. We want to shake the perception that Wikipedia inherently unreliable and we can do that through edit-a-thons.

Edit-a-thons can be on any topic, and on that day at the AAAS meeting, it was on science. The edit-a-thon was organized by the Simons Foundation who, working with Wiki Edu who has declared 2016 the Wikipedia Year of Science, has organized edit-a-thons at numerous scientific society meetings including AAAS, the American Chemical Society, the American Society for Microbiology, and the American Society for Plant Biology, just to name a few. We are excited to announce that the final conference edit-a-thon of the year will be held at the AGU Fall Meeting! Stay tuned for updates and more details here.

Wiki Edu and the Simons Foundation aren’t the only organizations trying to improve scientific content on Wikipedia. Wikimedia, a non-profit with chapters in numerous cities, hosts regular events year-round on a variety of subjects. Recently, AGU and Wikimedia DC partnered to host a local edit-a-thon where Earth and space scientists came to AGU headquarters in Washington DC to learn about Wikipedia and edit/create content on the website. The event was a great primer for the edit-a-thon at Fall Meeting and was featured in a news story.

We hope that you will join us (at Fall Meeting or through your local chapter) to help make Wikipedia a more reliable source for science.

-Shane M Hanlon is an AGU Sharing Science Specialist