This week's project, WikiProject Biophysics, is home to several experts in their fields and a collaboration with the Biophysical Society. Started in February 2012, this relatively young project has accumulated 3 Featured Articles, 6 Good Articles, and a wealth of pictures and videos. The project is hosting a contest through July 15 with six contributors winning $100 in cash and given the opportunity to attend the 2014 meeting of the Biophysical Society in San Francisco. Other strong entries will be awarded barnstars online and everyone who contributes can receive a physical button mailed out to them. Four of the project's members shared their experiences with us. Dcrjsr is a biophysicist at Duke University who developed the ribbon diagram in 1980. RockMagnetist teaches geophysics and enjoys collaborating on related subjects like biomagnetism. Mark viking explores the interface of physics, biology, and computation for UCSF and Kaiser Permanente. Daniel Mietchen is a professional biophysicist in Germany who champions open science.
What motivated you to join WikiProject Biophysics? Do you have an educational or professional background in biophysics? Do you participate in any other science-related WikiProjects?
Dcrjsr: I was the one who pushed to start the project -- because I wanted biophysics articles to be as good as the ones I admire in statistics and math, and I clearly needed a lot of help with that! I'm a professor at Duke University and a structural biologist, studying 3D structure of proteins & RNA. I participate in WikiProject Women scientists; other than that, I just contribute a lot of images to Commons and edit articles as I happen on them; my best so far is Frederic M. Richards.
RockMagnetist: I joined when Dcrjsr came to WikiProject Physics asking for help. She's a great catch for Wikipedia - notable enough for her own page, and as president of the Biophysical Society, in a perfect position to encourage biophysicists to contribute; yet humble and eager for feedback from others. At the time, I had recent experience building WikiProject Bibliographies and its Science task force. I also have been involved with a few other WikiProjects, particularly Geology and Women scientists (another I joined simply because it seemed like a great idea). My own expertise is in magnetism, and within biophysics I am mainly interested in articles on biomagnetism.
Mark viking: I have worked professionally both in physics and biology, so biophysics is a natural interest of mine. I was recently motivated to join in order track the state of the biophysics articles in WP, to learn the cultural norms surrounding the editing of biophysics articles, and to hopefully contribute to the effort. My expertise is in theoretical physics, complex systems and statistical genetics.
Daniel Mietchen: I joined for the same reasons that got me trained as a biophysicist: the joys of how physical perspectives change across biological systems, especially when moving along the biological levels of organization or the tree of life. However, WP:COI, WP:NN and related discussions keep me from starting or editing the articles in my areas of expertise, and since I do not like to write about stuff I don't know, I have ended up being more active on Commons and in WikiProjects on neighbouring subjects - e.g. WikiProject Open Access, WikiProject Computational Biology and WikiProject Tree of Life.
WikiProject Biophysics was initially set up by members of the Biophysical Society. What were the society's goals in creating a WikiProject? How welcoming has Wikipedia been toward real-world organizations creating WikiProjects?
Dcrjsr: The project, and the contest, are supported by the President and Council, and the Education, Early Careers, and Professional Opportunities for Women commmittees, valuing the learning experience for members and especially the outreach and service aspects. Wikipedians have been supportive and helpful, but it's a difficult push to get enough people excited and committed enough to establish a critical mass of contributors. We hope the contest will help.
Please describe the contest that the project is currently running. Who can participate? What are the prizes? Where can editors get ideas for their submissions?
Dcrjsr: Anyone can enter the contest (this is wikipedia, after all!) Everyone who works on an entry gets a neat button, and can come to a project dinner if they're at a Biophysical Society meeting; good entries earn a barnstar on your talk page; 6 student or early-career winners get $100 and a free membership and registration for the 2014 Biophysical Society meeting in San Francisco. For contest ideas, look at "How to participate" at Wikipedia:WikiProject Biophysics/Biophysics wiki-edit contest.
How complex do articles about biophysics get? What can be done to make information about biophysics accessible to the average reader? What can a layperson contribute to biophysics articles?
Mark viking: My experience is that biophysics articles run the gamut, from articles that are simply written single paragraphs to dense articles full of the ill-explained jargon and sophisticated mathematics that one might find in a graduate-level math or physics article. For complex articles, I think one of the best things we can do for accessibility is to write article leads that explain in an intuitive and jargon-minimized way the topic of the article, or failing that, an introductory section at the start of the article. If the average reader can come away from a complex article having gained some conceptual understanding of the topic, that article has succeeded in being a useful part of the encyclopedia for layman and expert alike.
Daniel Mietchen: Yes, the complexity varies, and readers come from many different backgrounds, such that a paragraph that explains things clearly to some may mean nothing to others. One way to work on that is to break things down more simply (or in separate articles). Another is to encourage feedback, which lay people would be in a good position to provide. Illustrations can help a great deal too, and while creating them or tracking them down takes effort, it often pays off in terms of reader experience.
Does WikiProject Biophysics collaborate with WikiProject Biology, WikiProject Physics, or any other projects? What can be done to increase collaboration between projects covering the various scientific fields?
Dcrjsr: We don't have formal collaborations with them, but we got ideas from their sites and a lot of good advice from individual editors, both in those projects and elsewhere.
Mark viking: I haven't seem much evidence of collaboration between the physics and biophysics WikiProjects. I think such a collaboration could be useful to sort out which kinds of articles should be tracked by which project, to coordinate grading standards, etc. One challenge in biophysics is that biophysics means very different things to different people, so even establishing the scope of the wikiproject can be difficult. Physical aspects of structural molecular biology is important these days. But what about complex systems in biology, such as gene regulatory networks? What about the interface of statistical mechanics with evolution and population biology? What about biomechanics and bioenergetics? What about the physical dynamics of ecological systems, such as chaos in predator-prey systems and the dynamics of forest fire models? What about health and medical physics? I think collaboration of the biophysics WikiProject with other WikiProjects could help establish areas of common interest in this wide-ranging field.
Daniel Mietchen: I would really welcome more coordination in covering a topic across Wikimedia projects - especially across languages, Wikidata and Commons. Perhaps the proposed thematic organizations are worth a try, and that's why I am also engaged with one of them, Wiki Project Med.
What are WikiProject Biophysics's most pressing needs? How can a new member help today?
RockMagnetist: We are a fairly young project, so there are a lot of basic things that need doing - half of our articles are still unassessed and they need lots of cleanup. The best place to look for ideas is our to do list.
Daniel Mietchen: Another way to help is to check Commons for suitable illustrations, to upload or categorize files there, or to embed them in corresponding articles. I am also not aware of anyone checking biophysical topics on Wikidata systematically, so there are lots of opportunities to chime in.
Anything else you'd like to add?
RockMagnetist: Anyone interested in creating WikiProject Geophysics?
Daniel Mietchen: I have had a lot of fun in poster sessions lately going to people whose posters had no visitors and asking them "what would be the three Wikipedia articles I would have to read in order to stand best chances to understand that poster?" This approach does not only get to the heart of the poster very quickly and interactively, but it provides a good opportunity to get feedback on the Wikipedia coverage of these topics in the languages the presenters speak, it makes people aware of the edit button and of the benefits of publishing their articles under reuse-friendly licenses. Bonus: it works fine beyond biophysics too.
Next week, we'll enter the ring for a prize-winning fight. Until then, read our other knock-out interviews in the archive.