Guest post: Why don’t more scientists contribute to Wikipedia?
“Wikipedia is not an acceptable citation, even though it may lead one to a citable source. [...] I tell my students that Wikipedia is a fine place to search for a paper topic or begin the research process, but it absolutely cannot serve subsequent stages of research.”
“What I wonder is why professors don’t curate [pages on] Wikipedia and add course materials and open access sections of textbooks, much of which they post online anyways.”
Last month, Wikipedia celebrated its 10th anniversary, which saw considerable coverage in mainstream media. A Chronicle article observed that, today, the project does not represent “the bottom layer of authority, nor the top, but in fact the highest layer without formal vetting” and, as such, it can serve as “an ideal bridge between the validated and unvalidated Web”.
An increasing number of university students use Wikipedia for “pre-research”, as part of their course assignments or research projects. Yet many among academics, scientists and experts turn their noses up at the thought of contributing to Wikipedia, despite a growing number of calls from the scientific community to join the project. The Association for Psychological Science launched an initiative to get the scientific psychology community involved in improving the quality of articles in their field, while biomedical experts recently called upon their peers to help make public health information in Wikipedia rigorous and complete.
These initiatives remain sporadic and most academics – despite goodwill to contribute – still perceive major barriers to participation, which typically include a general lack of time to contribute, but also barriers of a technical, social and cultural nature. These encompass the lack of incentives from the perspective of a professional career, the poor recognition of one’s expertise within Wikipedia, the widespread perception of Wikipedia as a non-authoritative source. In combination with the apparent anomaly of collaborative – and often anonymous – authorship and the resulting fluidity of Wikipedia articles, these factors create an environment that significantly differs from the ones experts are accustomed to.
Now, the Wikimedia Research Committee has launched a survey to understand why scientists, academics and other experts do (or do not) contribute to Wikipedia, and whether individual motivation aligns with shared perceptions of Wikipedia within different communities of experts. The survey is anonymous and takes about 20 minutes to complete. Whether you are an active Wikipedia contributor or not, you can take the survey and help Wikipedia think of ways around barriers to expert participation.
Dario Taraborelli is a senior research analyst at the Wikimedia Foundation.