Mandatory Wikipedia Edits?

Nat Torkington reports that the RNA Biology journal (published by Nature) requires authors to submit at least one Wikipedia article on their research before they will publish their article. This is partially because the publisher, Nature, has something called the RNA WikiProject which syncs each night with related Wikipedia articles.

I thought this was interesting because I know there is a certain hesitancy among scholars in the social sciences to post their own research findings to Wikipedia for fear that it might hurt their efforts to publish material later on. Anthropology isn’t like the sciences, in that some of our “findings” might not even meet Wikipedia’s increasingly stringent standards for what qualifies for an article – and we certainly don’t subscribe (as a discipline) to Wikipedia’s concept of a “neutral point of view”; still, I think that there is a lot of basic information we acquire during the course of our research which is perfectly suited for Wikipedia. What would happen if American Anthropologist required that all authors make some substantial Wikipedia edits on their topic before considering their article for publication?

8 thoughts on “Mandatory Wikipedia Edits?

  1. I had a bit of a go at editing a few Wikipedia articles a few years ago but soon gave up after well-meaning (?) people kept reversing points I needed to make in order for the rest of an article to make sense. They claimed a certain dialect didn’t exist; I could point to several scholarly works which proved it did, but the high cost in time to a total newcomer of building up enough ‘subcultural capital’ among the Wikipedia community simply isn’t worth it. Not unless they’re going to put ‘editing Wikipedia’ in our job description anyway.

  2. My understanding is that Wikipedia articles are not supposed to contain original research. Isn’t it also the case that the original intent was that a Wikipedia article was to be created only by those who are “non-authorities” in the field?

  3. MTBradley wrote: “Isn’t it also the case that the original intent was that a Wikipedia article was to be created only by those who are “non-authorities” in the field?”

    I think this is one of the bones of contention between two of the creators of Wikipedia; Larry Sanders initial development, nupedia, was meant to contain peer review and was meant to be driven by scholars. Becoming an editor on that project more or less meant that you should have a PhD as proof of expertise in your field. Sanders has since been critical of practical problems with wikipedia’s openness, whilst admiring its goals in principle, and has complained specifically about the “anti-elitism” which plauges it.

    He has since created citizendium as a fork of wikipedia with a specific role for experts as contributors.

    (Source for much of this = wikipedia, of course. Now that’s scholarly rigour.)

    “Jimbo” Wales, on the other hand… well, I don’t have any hard evidence for this (not even a wikipedia article), but I can’t help but suspect that his goal was to make something Big. The means of production is a by-product of this – it’s designed to create something massive in scale, very quickly, and something that will generate a lot of hits. He’s clearly achieved that. Wikipedia is famous and returns as the one of the top results for most google searches. Projects that have kept “expertise” at the core seem comparatively small, and certainly don’t have the same rate of growth. Hence nupedia had only ever produced a handful of ‘complete’ articles, whereas I can type a wikipedia article right now and worry about getting citations, adding length, and so on later.

  4. I’m with Catherine. Wikipedia has devolved into a technocratic bureaucracy.

    I have a colleague who tried requiring undergraduates to edit Wikipedia articles as a way to contribute to the fields they were studying and to think of their research beyond just their final papers/grades. Sadly, it took so much time to navigate all the silliness that the assignment became a total timesuck on the course, and turned them off on the idea of using their own knowledge base and bibliographies to improve OA materials.

  5. The bureaucratization of Wikipedia is something I’ve written about, so I know what you are talking about. I am hopeful that the situation is being addressed by the wikipedia community, but it clearly still needs work. The Wikipedia Foundation recently received a big grant to make Wikipedia more user friendly – although that may be focused more on user interface issues than bureaucracy…

    MTBradley’s point about original research is interesting, but I think it overstates how much is “original” in original research. I can see how someone making a new discovery about RNA could have a lot to say about a topic without having to rely on the publication of their own new research.

  6. I am a somewhat obsessive editor of Wikipedia each semester that I teach a broad introduction to the history of and theory in cultural anthropology. When I first started editing Wikipedia entires about 4 or 5 years ago it was really easy and sort of fascinating because my edits would elicit edits from other people. It is harder now but I still do it.

    I must caution however that this past Fall after one of my lectures a student looked up what I had been lecturing about on Wikipedia saw my edits (which were taken word for word from my lecture notes, like all of my edits) and went to the dean to try and press some sort of plagiarism charges against me. I do minor edits to all sorts of entires (Morgan, Taylor, Mead, Functionalism…. the whole gambit of what one might cover in an introductory level course). She argued that my use of bits of Wikipedia in lectures was analogous to her using bits in a paper and not citing it.

    The deans dismissed the student’s complaints saying that using bits of Wikipedia in lecture might be “lazy” but it is not “plagiarism.”

    What bothered me the most about this is that no one ever asked me about it. I found out about the whole thing much later. If the student had come to me I might have actually talked about Wikipedia in class (a great idea that only occurred to me after this happened), how one puts together lectures for 26 class meetings over the course of a semester drawing from multiple sources (our own brains, our notes from graduate seminars, books, articles,….) and how these lectures are a genre of anthropological writing that we may or may not think about the same way we think about publications,…… any of a million interesting topics. But the student didn’t talk to me. She went and tried to get me in trouble saying that she was paying good money for the class and that I was not serving up what she was paying for.

    RE putting our research on Wikipedia, I hate the idea of being required to do it by a journal or publisher but I sort of like the idea of getting information about the part of the world I work in out there on the web. Much of what is out there right now is really problematic so any avenue for correcting misconceptions and such seems positive to me. But then I think about that student. What if we edit the Wikipedia entires about our topics and then get charged with plagiarism?

  7. I am appalled at your Dean’s response to the situation. The student was denied the “teachable moment” of having to discuss the issue with you, directly and the “lazy” comment is beyond the pale. Unfortunately, I am not surprised. When you consider that the overwhelming majority of anthropology courses taught in the U.S. are taught by contingent (non-tenure) faculty the situation is even more alarming. How many faculty would simply not be hired back the next semester when faced with such an accusation?

    When I was in graduate school twenty years ago, I would have never thought this way but I have seen my optimism erode dealing with teaching full-time without the protection of tenure or a research presence–students have too much power. The educational climate is busy trying to seduce and pander to them without the accompanying message of individual responsibility, maturity, and–dare I say it?–respect for authority. I am not referring to blind authority–I mean the type of authority that is achieved through the process of learning and engagement with what constitutes “knowledge”.

    I am aware it sounds elitist but I can’t escape the conclusion that maybe its not a bad idea for it to be difficult for undergraduates to publish their “knowledge” to Wikipedia. What, after all, is the meaning of the educational process if anyone can do it? Why bother with the Ph.D.?

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