User:Mike Serfas

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About Wikipedia[edit]

  • Wikipedia becomes more impressive all the time. Once it was a free alternative to commercial encyclopedias - now it surpasses them in its scope, depth, and currency. For any who have doubts about how truly comprehensive the collection has become, try editing the most obscure articles requested in WP:AR1 - as often as not you will find an entry under a different name that merely needs a redirect. In politics and current events, Wikipedia editors often succeed, where for decades American journalists have usually failed, to pull together all of the information available into a consistent, balanced, and understandable form that allows people to make informed decisions.
  • Since I often take interest in obscure topics, Wikipedia can work like a notepad for storing interesting information, but one where I can hope that my notes will continue to expand on themselves (in the hands of capable editors) - and at worst there's always the History.
  • The site is a social experiment in mass collaboration. The site creates an experimental record of the strengths and weaknesses of interactive writing; policies can be tested and their impact determined. Wikipedia is not without problems - too many people are willing to revert edits even though they state that they have a problem with only a portion of the text. The deletion of articles or the removal of material has taken on political overtones, and in some cases I've found that historical versions of an article from a year or more in the past are preferable to that currently provided. Even so, the material is there in some form, and one hopes further developments will reverse such trends.
  • Editing the site is an opportunity to learn the tools and mores of a new kind of Internet communications protocol. Although Wikis look like other web sites, their public nature makes them truly a new type of forum, as fundamental as e-mail, Web, Usenet, and chat formats. I see great potential for Wikis in classroom exercises, the writing of large scientific articles with many authors, interactive fiction writing, and many other applications.



Wikipedia offers the chance to promote worthy causes in a very persuasive way. That sounds contrary to the Wikipedia policy of neutrality, but it isn't. As a rule, opinions don't belong in a Wikipedia article - but the impartial facts that made those opinions do.

  • I participate in WP:WikiProject Barack Obama (WP:OBAMA). This project offers quite a bit to do to help keep track of ongoing political issues, and it needs more help. There is also a group "Wikipedians for Obama" on, though discussions there have been less active after the election.
  • I created Template:Ancient anaesthesia-footer and edited several of the articles referenced in order to help dispel the popular belief that anaesthesia is a new invention, and people just "bit the bullet" and suffered in the past. In reality, before 1500 B.C. Africans were writing medical texts (e.g. Ebers Papyrus) and shipping opium across the Mediterranean. There's much to be added - the template as written barely scratches the surface. My hope is that if people learn the wide range of effective anaesthetics available in the past, they will have less patience for the widespread lack of access to anaesthesia in poor countries today.
  • The ancient history of medicine seems useful for bioprospecting or potentially coming up with useful nutritional therapies. Just because Aulus Cornelius Celsus wrote about therapeutic use of celery seeds in the first century A.D. doesn't mean that there wasn't a patent recently awarded for it.


  • My primary focus is on biological and biochemical questions, though the great pleasure of Wikipedia is to wander widely. The tidbits that people tend to add about recent discoveries are great for stimulating creativity and suggesting new ideas. Often I start off wondering about some small point, so I look it up on Wikipedia. Quite specialized or obscure information is often already described here. When it isn't, it's a chance to track down and add something fun. (the actual composition of the mithridatium, for example)

Nothing's better than a riddle[edit]

  • By what coincidence does the recently identified drug cyclopamine make animals look like the Cyclops? The answer is not known, but what is known is that Hippocrates was among those prescribing "white hellebore", Veratrum album, not far from the time and place where the one-eyed Cyclops gained its fame.
  • How did the tragic debacle of the TGN1412 trial occur? The amount of monoclonal antibody administered was 1/500 that required to affect a monkey - but the antibody was raised against the human peptide and was likely far more effective against it.
  • Opium poppies have been under cultivation for at least the past 5600 years, and were used to manufacture the drug during most of that time. For at least the past 3500 or so, opium was used as an anaesthetic in surgery, and was powerful enough to cause unconsciousness or death. So why isn't there any good evidence that opium was addictive before around 1700 A.D.? Speculation: artificial selection in India sometime around 1500 A.D. might have increased the addictive morphinan content, and decreased other compounds found in wild poppies reported to oppose addiction. Incidentally, many sources say that ancient physicians used wild poppies with no narcotic content at all, and although they were weaker they were credited as effective painkillers - a finding deserving further investigation.

Favorite finds[edit]