Education Opinion

Three Reasons Why Earth Scientists Should Edit Wikipedia

Are you looking to communicate science more broadly? Start by editing articles on the Internet's most popular general reference work.

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If you are a researcher who is looking to communicate science more broadly, an easy step involves Wikipedia.

Wikipedia is a frequent first stop for researchers, students, and the public. The world’s largest free encyclopedia, Wikipedia is also one of the largest websites in terms of traffic.

Here’s the important thing: Page views of Wikipedia are immense compared with views of primary literature articles. As a result, if you edit a page to include results from your research, your audience will likely expand by at least an order of magnitude.

Editing Wikipedia is a way to show your notable work to more people, who, in turn, may benefit, use, or be interested in your research topic. I am not an expert Wikipedia editor, and my suggestion for researchers to edit Wikipedia is not novel [e.g., Bateman and Logan, 2010; Bond, 2011; Logan et al., 2010], but I do want to discuss the benefits and present some (personal) data to convince you of the value of editing.

Here are three reasons you should edit Wikipedia.

1. Your Research, out from Behind a Paywall, Gets into Public View

As an online encyclopedia, Wikipedia is a venue for summarizing previously published research, and therefore, editing it is a form of public outreach and science communication. The article with your brief edits could be the only written place on the Web that isn’t behind a paywall, where people can read about recent scientific work, making it more visible to scientists and nonscientists alike.

To make this point about increased visibility more quantitative, I show in Figure 1 a time series of monthly page views (users only, not bots) for four Wikipedia articles relevant to my primary research. Figure 1 also shows the page views of my research website and article views for a recent open-access journal article of mine for comparison. The log scale demonstrates just how many people peruse some Wikipedia pages versus primary sources.

Page views for Wikipedia and a personal website, showing how editing science articles strengthens links to actual research.
Fig. 1. Monthly page views for Wikipedia show the large audience compared with page views of the author’s personal website and page views of a 2014 open-access journal article by the author. Note the logarithmic y axis. Credit: Evan Goldstein

2. Editing Articles Is Quick and Easy

I want to stress that editing pages is not overly time-consuming. Logan et al. [2010] offer simple and clear guidance about editing Wikipedia. In addition to compiling a list of frequently asked questions about editing, Wikipedia itself maintains extensive literature on common mistakes as well as guidance about what Wikipedia is and is not.

The Wiki Education Foundation also maintains resources for instructors to integrate editing Wikipedia into the classroom. I have touched upon only a few of the available resources on Wikipedia editing; there are many more.

3. Editing Provides an Opportunity to Connect and Network

Wikipedia is a gateway to scientific literature [Taraborelli, 2016]. Citations of your work in Wikipedia not only increase the visibility of research but also connect Wikipedia to your journal article. If you have an Open Researcher and Contributor ID (ORCiD; many journals now require this), you are also eligible for an Impactstory profile. Impactstory aggregates the Web links (from a variety of venues) to all works listed in your ORCiD account.

As a result, mentions of your research on Wikipedia appear on your Impactstory profile. This information on usage (via Twitter, blogs, Wikipedia, etc.) can allow you to connect to people who are interested in your research but won’t be citing it in peer-reviewed literature. I would add that if you are an early-career scientist or student, these nontraditional research mentions may have professional benefits (such as networking).

Don’t Game the System

In addition to these benefits, I also want to mention a caveat.

There is a danger that some academic Wikipedia editors will attempt to “game” the research metrics system, tending toward outsized self-promotion as opposed to sharing notable new science with the public. Wikipedia provides information about conflict of interest and self-promotion to inform editors and prevent these issues.

Guidance on these topics is also given by Logan et al. [2010].

A Warm-up to More

Editing Wikipedia pages does not require a large time commitment but can have a significant effect on the communication of science because of Wikipedia’s large number of page views. Editing can be incorporated into your scholarly life as a “warm-up” exercise for scholarly writing, and I can imagine that a lab- or department-wide edit-a-thon could be a valuable and fun event.

In summary, I urge you to consider editing Wikipedia as public outreach, to get research into the hands of people who could benefit from your newfound knowledge.

Acknowledgments

I thank E. Janke, E. Lazarus, and two anonymous reviewers for constructive feedback.

References

Bateman, A., and D. W. Logan (2010), Time to underpin Wikipedia wisdom, Nature, 468(7325), 765, doi:10.1038/468765c.

Bond, A. L. (2011), Why ornithologists should embrace and contribute to Wikipedia, Ibis, 153(3), 640–641, doi:10.1111/j.1474-919X.2011.01135.x.

Logan, D. W., et al. (2010), Ten simple rules for editing Wikipedia, PLoS Comput. Biol., 6(9), e1000941, doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000941.

Taraborelli, D. (2016), Wikipedia’s role in the dissemination of scholarship, figshare, doi:10.6084/m9.figshare.4175343.v2.

—Evan B. Goldstein (email: [email protected]; @ebgoldstein), Department of Geological Sciences, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Citation: Goldstein, E. B. (2017), Three reasons why Earth scientists should edit Wikipedia, Eos, 98, https://doi.org/10.1029/2017EO066827. Published on 27 January 2017.
© 2017. The authors. CC BY 3.0
  • Gordon Saul

    Great article.
    Rather than looking at promoting your specific field of interest, or the results of your research, it is also important to identify and correct the many errors and omissions within Wikipedia. Many organisations that are more adept at utilising/manipulating social media often post overtly politicised information that masquerades as fact. It really is a responsibility on all of us to ensure accuracy in Wikipedia, particularly as the article points out, it is very often the first port of call when researching a topic.