In a fascinating and forward-thinking policy change, the journal RNA Biology recently began requiring authors to submit a Wikipedia-ready page after acceptance, so that new findings can be published in Wikipedia after journal publication:
Anyone submitting to a section of the journal RNA Biology will, in the future, be required to also submit a Wikipedia page that summarizes the work. The journal will then peer review the page before publishing it in Wikipedia.
The first Wikipedia entry resulting from this policy can be found in Wikipedia already.
Despite the fact that the page submitted to Wikipedia will have been peer-reviewed, debates about the quality of Wikipedia continue, mostly along the lines that the entries will degenerate in the Wikipedia environment into unrecognizable lay-person nonsense. These debates are rife in the comments around the Nature news article about the policy change. One comment hints at a study about the very topic:
Our data, being written up for publication, do not support Mr. Kohs’ hypothesis that the RNA articles will degenerate into vandalism-riddled nonsense. On the contrary, we found that the developed articles (the so-called Featured, A-level and Good Articles) are stable and of reliably good quality.
The instructions to authors even urge authors to use OpenOffice as the software of choice!
While Wikipedia isn’t to be used to publish original research, it can be used to publish reference work based on peer-reviewed research. New findings — discoveries — certainly qualify.
In thinking this through, I believe this is a great move. Journals are struggling to remain relevant. What better way than to align themselves with what is arguably the world’s most significant, accessible reference work? It also answers some of the concerns about access to findings, which have dogged the scholarly publishing community for the past decade.
Is this a great idea? I believe it is.
8 Thoughts on "A Journal Feeds Wikipedia"
If researchers are using tools like Google to do more of their information seeking, then creating a summary page on the most visible reference site makes great sense. It will draw readers to the original article and increase the visibility and profile of RNA Biology articles. Best of all, the journal makes the author do the work!
One could imagine the competing journals to RNA Biology following suit.
There is little doubt about the value it adds to wikipedia, but this move might make publishing more cumbersome. In cases where publications span across many topics in the same field, e.g. application of mathematical logic in distributed computing, authors may not find it easy to update all the relevant pages.
Incremental results may not qualify at all. Who draws the line?
Why not just use arxiv after peer reviews?
This is a provocative idea with many implications. I add two thoughts to Kent’s and Namit’s discussions.
1. Journals should think more broadly than Wikipedia. While Wikipedia is the largest wiki, its permitting of anonymous editing should rattle an academic publisher. Other wikis do not do this. Why limit to Wikipedia or even to one wiki? Personally I favor Citizendium (founded by Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger) although I admit I am on its executive committee.
2. As Namit noted, how should the influx of content from scholarly journals be integrated into the wiki? Without thought on this, a) the wiki might become a watered-down mirror of academic journals and b) shoveling tons of academic articles into a wiki will disrupt the wikis by creating disorganized and redundant content. As a small example, currently there are no links in Wikipedia to the first RNA Biology page at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SmY.
Not all academic articles should become unique wiki articles. Some academic articles should not be in a wiki at all, whereas some academic articles should become a paragraph or section of an existing wiki article. The journals should minimize the burden on its own authors from creating good wiki edits.
I think these challenges are solvable. While the community of authors at the wikis may solve these problems by themselves, journals interested in this should collaborate with the wikis and be more proactive.
Among the many implications, perhaps someday a journal’s impact will in part be measured by its citations in wikis. An initial study of which journals are being cited at Wikipedia is at http://arxiv.org/abs/0705.2106v1.
Given the rampant deletion of articles deemed not significant enough for coverage, it will be interesting to see if many of these entries survive (or if they’ll require the special protection of the Wikipedia overlords as part of their agreement with the journal). Then of course, each article will have to run the gamut of crazed rule-enforcers who spend their lives enforcing the minutiae of Wikipedia regulations.
The obvious culture clash is that the world of science revolves around evidence and being accurate, while the world of Wikipedia revolves around strict adherence to the rules (this is vastly more important than quality of content). Should be entertaining to watch.
Bingo, for David Crotty. I couldn’t have said it better.
Here’s one of my favorite Wikipedia edits, where a mindless Administrator makes an article WORSE, because he must — MUST — revert the edits of a User who has been deemed subversive to the wiki-cult.
That’s right, “Big coal givers to West Virginia politicians includes Arch Coal PAC,” is a better sentence than “The Arch Coal PAC (political action committee) is a substantial donor to West Virginia politicians,” in the addled mind of Admin Fram.
The author of the second sentence was blocked from further editing Wikipedia by the administrator who restored the first sentence of gibberish. That was over a month ago. Still, the gibberish rules, and the better version remains suppressed.
Why scientists are eager to immerse themselves in an environment like that is beyond me.