PLoS Biology has an article out today entitled “A Gene Wiki for Community Annotation of Gene Function.” The article describes the authors attempts to create a comprehensive gene wiki of gene functions by ‘seeding’ Wikipedia with a foundation of ‘stub’ articles with information from existing databases (such as Entrez Gene). This foundation would then be built upon in Wikipedia fashion by community editing.
The Gene Wiki, like the proposal for the ‘wikification of GenBank‘ and the now online Encyclopedia of Life, is an attempt to harness the power of the community to provide the community with a wealth of annotated information
But, even as the authors admit, the Gene Wiki’s success so far has been muted. Part of the solution to make this a more useful tool is reported in this paper. The authors seeded the gene wiki with entry data from Entrez Gene. This is based on the observation that editors are more likely to add or correct information on a pre-existing article than they are to create a new one. So far the success of this effort of seeding hasn’t been shown (but as the authors suggest, this is recent and as of this paper wasn’t announced).
The authors reference the Nature article comparing Wikipedia vs. Encyclopedia Britannica showing that Wikipedia stacked up well. I’d caveat that, these were for the most ‘basic’ science comparison, comparisons of scientific concepts that would be expected a college student might get correct. But the authors are suggesting a wiki for something much more complex and deep, the annotation of a gene. Even with the basic comparison, Wikipedia only compared favorably in the sense that it didn’t do nearly as badly as many would expect and only almost as good as Encyclopedia Britannica. Research needs something more than this.
And this would bring me to what I consider the biggest hurdle. The Gene Wiki project is deep and complex science. Wikipedia is doing reasonably well in ‘general science’, but I’m not so sure the model will work for this kind of science. I’m not sure Wikipedia is the venue for this (a similar concern voiced by BBGM) or will be able to bring the level of completeness and accuracy required by scientific research. Wikis have found uses and success, but for every successful wiki, there are a few hundred (thousand) failures littering the internet landscape. For success, a wiki needs a readership knowledgable enough and large enough not only to contribute but to keep data accurate. Too small or too many unknowledgable people adding to an article allows too many errors to creep into and, more importantly in a wiki’s success, to remain in the wiki. I’m not convinced the knowlegable readership of a gene wiki will be large enough.
Perhaps I’d use it like I use Wikipedia now for general use, a starting off point for information and research, but one I never use as a definitive source or reference.
And that is what the authors state in the end:
Importantly, this gene wiki effort is not meant to be a substitute for existing resources. Gene portals and model organism databases will continue to serve as authoritative references with a specific role for data curation and enforcement of data standards. Moreover, the structured and typed data in gene portals is amenable to incorporation into pipelines and systematic analyses in a way the information in a gene wiki cannot . Most importantly, because articles are dynamic and not subject to rigorous peer review, the gene wiki is not intended to be a reference that is cited in a traditional peer-reviewed article or used exclusively as a source of gene annotation. Nevertheless, we believe that this gene wiki will be a valuable launch pad for collaboratively summarizing knowledge, and we expect that scientists will synergistically use the gene wiki with traditional gene portals.
Huss, J.W., Orozco, C., Goodale, J., Wu, C., Batalov, S., Vickers, T.J., Valafar, F., Su, A.I. (2008). A Gene Wiki for Community Annotation of Gene Function. PLoS Biology, 6(7), e175. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.0060175