Required Wiki updates?

In the push to ‘communitize’ annotation and curation, one journal, RNA Biology, is requiring submitters to add or update their RNA sequences on wikipedia. This article suggests that it’s working so far (update, link to the article added),

The first examples of this program in action are already online. The journal is hosting an open access paper that describes a family of RNA molecules found in nematode worms; a corresponding Wikipedia page is already in place. In good Wikipedia form, the phylogenetic analysis of these RNAs is dinged for not providing citations, while the article as a whole is flagged as having excess jargon. (The talk page hosts an interesting discussion of how much jargon can possibly be eliminated from a highly technical description like this.)

So far, everyone is happy with the results. A few scientists have started updating the scientific content of the RNA entries, while the usual Wikipedia denizens have helped out in terms of catching typos and improving the formatting. The people backing the project expect that it will be immune to some of the issues that plague other Wikipedia entries; Nature quotes one of the biologists as saying, “”We don’t think vandalism will ever be as much of a problem for a Wikipedia page on transfer RNAs as it is for a page on George Bush.”

And looking at that one entry, it does seem to. But I have a question, if researchers are soon required not only to submit and/or annotate in a database and to wikis and curate and annotate if they wish to publish, doesn’t this start to place an undue burden on researchers who already have grant writing, teaching, and more in addition to actual research? There does need to be a solution to the growing need for curation and annotation of data, it will be interesting to see if this is one solution that will hold.

9 thoughts on “Required Wiki updates?

  1. Mary

    Wow. The talk page also indicates that the data was maliciously tampered with.

    And at the top of the talk page there is this charming feature:

    This article has been rated as Low-importance on the importance scale.

    That is not the way to encourage scientists to contribute.

  2. Trey

    Though, in wikipedia’s defense, ‘low-importance’ has special meaning in the wikiworld: low here means “Subject is mainly of specialist interest,” which in this case is definitely true. It’s a hierarchy of priority rather than quality, and also only within a specific project, in this case the “Molecular and Cellular Biology WikiProject.”
    One hierarchy in that project for example would be:
    RNA>intron>small nuclear RNAs>SmY RNAs which is Top, High, Mid and and low importance respectively.

    It’s an unfortunate terminology.

    As to the malicious tampering, well.. I guess someone might defend that by saying the wiki worked in this case, and showed it’s strength, since it was immediately returned to it’s correct form. Though whether that is a feature or a bug is open to interpretation to say the least :D.

  3. Paul Gardner

    I would argue that researchers are the experts in the field and are therefore the perfect people to maintain Wikipedia entries relevant to them. I’ve found editing Wikipedia can be a great early morning or Friday afternoon activity when things aren’t working too well, it’s that or wash test tubes. Wikipedia’s tools and edit alerts are so easy to use that I really don’t think this will be that much more of a burden. Certainly not anywhere near the scale of grant writing, teaching and actual research.
    Regarding the vandalism, this particular entry has received a lot of media attention (eg. this blog), therefore it also attracted a few more malicious editors than usual, most of the edits have been very useful.
    Finally, before any one else mentions it, most of these articles wil mainly be review-like in nature. Therefore will not be subject to Wikipedia’s No_original_research ban. For those that aren’t we can simply delay the export of the article from a user’s space to Wikipedia main until the article is published.

  4. Mary

    I had this discussion with some friends in science today, and a friend not in science, in the same group. The friend not in science said that he actually used to like wikipedia better before the sciency types got there. He liked the encyclopedia style of it. He doesn’t like the expert-written stuff. He said we should stick to our journals for that kind of conversation.

    This is actually an issue we face a lot with software. Sometimes the experts are not the ideal folks to give an introduction-level exposure to the topic.

    I guess it depends on the goal. Is the goal to communicate peer-reviewed papers to non-scientists? Or is it a repository/review for science data/information for other scientists?

    I don’t think I understand yet.

  5. Trey

    That’s a good question, is it a way to communicate to non-scientists (or nonspecialists for that matter) or repository/review? There is a discussion about jargon (which goes to this) in the ‘talk’ section, I’m not sure it is resolved.

  6. Paul Gardner

    Tim Vickers had a great response to a similar criticism on the Nature news article:
    How close you get to the findings of current scientific research depends on which article you are talking about. You are right that the article on “RNA” should be written like a good general textbook and only discuss the basics that we all agree on. “Non-coding RNA” can go into more detail on this specialised topic, and might mention some current research, but still be based on material taken from reviews and textbooks. Finally, the article on “RNase MRP” could summarise the state of current research on this particular non-coding RNA and largely use journal articles as references. The articles in Wikipedia therefore form a chain leading from the most general introductions to the most specific and technical – the amount of primary publications it is appropriate to reference depends on where in this chain you are contributing.

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