Sunday, March 22, 2009

(ab)use of wikipedia ?

From IHE:
Recently, a small journal entitled RNA Biology announced that it will now require all authors to also create Wikipedia pages about their discoveries.

Specifically, the journal says:
At least one stub article (essentially an extended abstract) for the paper should be added to either an author's userspace at Wikipedia (preferred route) or added directly to the main Wikipedia space (be sure to add literature references to avoid speedy deletion). This article will be reviewed alongside the manuscript and may require revision before acceptance. Upon acceptance the former articles can easily be exported to the main Wikipedia space. See below for guidelines on how to do this. Existing articles can be updated in accordance with the latest published results.

I'm not a Wikipedia expert (hello 0xDE), but isn't this a violation of the Wikipedia policies on copyrighted material and (non)-publishing of original research ?

Update: As 0xDE points out, Wikipedia is already on top of this.


  1. The main problem is notability, see WP:N. Not every topic under the sun deserves its own article, and many new articles are deleted on Wikipedia on that basis.

    Some examples that are relevant for us are the notability guidelines for academics: WP:TEACH that tell you who deserves a Wikipedia page. For example, being a published scientist is not enough, but having a Gödel prize is.

    Something similar would apply for an article devoted to a single research paper. I can't think of a single WP page that does this, but Karp's 21 NP-complete problems comes close. A good rule of thumb is that the topic has be have been written about in some other venue. So if the NY times writes an article about a specific research paper, the paper would probably survive the deletionists's ardour because it’s clearly notable. Some books have their own page, such as Knuth and CLR.

    Copyright is no problem (because the WP article would have its own prose) and the no original research rule wouldn't apply because the article is supposed to be published in Wikipedia at the instant that the underlying research paper passes peer review.

  2. I think that that's the key: "ABOUT".

    Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, so one can have a page about a scientific result, but not the scientific result itself.

    In addition, even in the case one writes a page about a scientific article, it has to be written in an easy language so it can serve to the popularization of science, again, because it is an encyclopedia.

  3. Actually, after some guessing I did find a full Wikipedia article about a single scientific paper. It is, predictably, Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids: A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid by Crick and Watson.

    There is even a category for what we’re looking for: Category: Journal articles. It even contains a subcategory for Computer Science articles, with a handful of papers in it. Have a look! What else should be in there?

    Of course, these are good examples of why the original proposal from the editors of RNA Biology has not a snowball’s chance of actually producing a single page of content. Yet another well-intentioned but ill-advised initiative by academics who try to “improve Wikipedia” by making somebody else doing it.

  4. Stop press! Now I actually read the orginal proposal. The idea is to produce Wikipedia articles about RNA families. Such as That’s something different, and has a much better chance of working. The guidelines are a bit confused, because they ask you to write a new Wikipedia article whenever you publish a new paper. That would be silly – you should be encouraged to add your findings to the existing article instead.

    Now the problem becomes something else: Wikipedia has very few mechanism for choosing among verifiable content. If Joe Algorithmicist publishes an utterly esoteric detail about quantum Fibonacci heaps without a negative antisnail for Monge–Chan–Mandelstein distributions, then no matter the venue, his result becomes fair game for Wikipedia. Joe could now add his results to Fibonacci heap and completely change its focus. To prevent him from doing that, some other editor now needs to argue Undue_weight. This is easy for topics where survey articles or book chapters have already establishes “what is relevant and what isn’t” – but this policy exactly fails for active research. Wikipedia does not want to be an arbiter of “what is relevant” – so we should have stronger policies about letting peer communities such as major conferences guide Wikipedia policy.

    (But so far it’s a highly hypothetical problem for us. Wikipedia TCS coverage has too little content rather than too much. The issue may be different for biology, which has really good coverage.)

  5. There was a longer discussion of this already on the Wikipedia administrators' noticeboard. The general idea there seemed to be that the benefits in attracting more editors to Wikipedia outweighed the pitfalls.

    As Thore says, copyright isn't really a problem: when someone edits Wikipedia they are automatically releasing their words with the appropriate copyright, so copyright problems happen only when someone includes words that are already copyrighted by someone else.

    The original research issue is more troublesome, but as they describe either putting it in userspace until the journal article is published or (if writing directly to mainspace) providing appropriate refeences, I think they've got that covered as well.

  6. David, would you like to comment on potential problems with WP:COI?

    You are editing Wikipedia under your own name, thereby violating one of the mechanisms of the peer review system, anonymity. I think that is laudable.

    But consider the following hypothetical scenario: I add a description of the results of my latest published paper to the Wikipedia article about my favorite data structure, which after my edit takes up almost half of the article. You think that I give undue weight to my results. But since you edit non-anonymously, you would loose social capital with me if you whittled my prose down to the two lines it objectively deserves.

    What I'm looking for is some mechanism that would arbitrate in such cases, but continue to allow expert editors to edit non-anonymously. For established results, there are secondary sources, books and survey articles, that can decide such issues. But for results where the ink is still fresh Wikipedia becomes that secondary source, instead of the tertiary source it wants to be. The easiest solution is of course to just admit that a result that has not yet appeared in a secondary source cannot be included in Wikipedia. But that would be a shame.

  7. It is not uncommon for authors of published research papers to unbalance articles in the way you suggest, leading to edit wars; see the history of the Wikipedia article on Graph Isomorphism, for instance.

    At this point I'm not particularly concerned about hiding my opinions but I can see how it could be an issue for not-well-established researchers. One possible solution, though, is to keep in mind the xkcd cartoon, step back from any conflict where your involvement might affect your professional life, and trust in the other editors of the article to handle it.

    A step in this direction is to edit Wikipedia articles with a different focus than one's own research. My Wikipedia editing tends to be much more on mathematics and less on computer science than my research, for instance.

  8. > see the history of the Wikipedia
    > article on Graph Isomorphism,
    > for instance.

    Any link to the wiki history/war on Graph Isomorphism?

  9. Thanks for the links David.


Disqus for The Geomblog