Contributed by Aimee deCathelineau (JCB).
For the first time, this year ASCB offered a workshop on creating and editing articles on Wikipedia for cell biologists.
“Contributions from experts are desperately needed to improve the quality of cell and molecular biology articles on Wikipedia and to ensure the information is accurate, correctly cited, and well-presented”, says Tim Vickers (Washington University, St. Louis, MO). Vickers heads the Molecular and Cell Biology (MCB) WikiProject, a domain in Wikipedia that coordinates article coverage for a given subject area. At the invitation of David L. Ennist, Director of Digital Resources for ASCB, Vickers hosted the workshop together with William Wedemeyer (Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI). The workshop provided an overview of the Wikipedia site and had several Wikipedians on-hand to assist attendees with creating a Wiki account. Participants then learned how to edit existing articles, and were given guidelines for the desired structure for Wiki articles when creating new ones.
Currently, scientific articles such as the “immune system” draw nearly 2600 viewers a day (one million hits per year). Like this article, many articles on cell biology-related topics have achieved the Wikipedia “gold standard”, or “feature article” status. However, literally thousands of other articles haven’t been so lucky. There are more than 2 million entries in MCB-related fields, but the majority of these have been abandoned as “stubs” - meaning the site was initiated but contains minimal amounts of information. For example, a Wikipedia article for every enzyme with an EC number has been generated, but most of these articles are underdeveloped and not annotated, and so are not helpful to the average Wikipedia user.
The MCB WikiProject, which currently has more than 200 members, aims to increase the quality of scientific articles on MCB related topics. The MCB portal highlights selected articles and images, biographies, and news. The site also lists articles that need expansion, clean-up, or peer-review. The group has created a prioritized list of articles in need of expert attention, such as “cell division” and “B-cell receptor”. In addition, the MCB WikiProject selects a “collaboration of the month”, which encourages authors to work together to improve an article to “feature article status”.
Several groups have sought advice and worked together with the MCB WikiProject to create new Wikipedia sites. Andrew Su and colleagues (The Novartis Institute for Genome Research, San Diego, CA) created software that automatically drops a ‘skeleton’ for each gene identified through the human genome project onto Wikipedia (Huss, J.W. III, et al., 2008). Jennifer Daub, who works on the Rfam database run by Alex Bateman (UK Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Cambridgeshire, England), also contacted MCB wikipedians for guidance to establish similar sites for non-coding RNAs. This collaboration, like the genome project started by Su, seeks to provide an open-access and centralized information source for the scientific community. In turn, a new journal, RNA Biology, is collaborating with the Rfam consortium, and will require authors to generate a Wiki article when a new family of non-coding RNAs is identified (Butler, D, 2008). In both cases, the ongoing and active participation of experts will be important for site development and maintenance.
With these initiatives already in progress, it is easy to imagine how Wikipedia may change some aspects of scientific communication in the future. Wedemeyer notes that participation in the MCB WikiProject is a great way to network and may lead to new professional contacts as authors ask for and receive advice from their colleagues.
As an open access source of information, Wikipedia provides immense potential for outreach by the scientific community. Google searches for many scientific topics often result in Wikipedia as the first-listed site. The Wikipedia audience is truly global, and includes not only your family, friends, and neighbors, but policy makers, granting agencies, voters, fellow scientists, and students. Getting involved with Wikipedia or the MCB WikiProject is an excellent way to draw attention to your field of study, improve your writing and presentation skills, and collaborate with other scientists in order to contribute to the dissemination of accurate scientific information, and provide a valuable and lasting electronic resource for the general public.
If you are interested in becoming a Wikipedian, connect to the Wikipedia editing tutorial, and get started (once you are logged in with a user name- you can contact the MCB WikiProject for help)! Wedemeyer has also posted video tutorials on YouTube.