User:Wiki at Royal Society John/Final Report

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
The 4 March 2014 editathon on "Women in Science" at the Royal Society
Professor Martin Hairer FRS, elected in 2014, shortly before winning the Fields medal. This official photo is now used on 17 language versions of Wikipedia

Royal Society Wikimedian in Residence – Final Report, by John Byrne

As Royal Society Wikimedian in Residence I was employed by the Royal Society for 6 months, one day per week, between January and early July 2014. This amounted to 26 working days, something that needs to be remembered in considering the project. The funding was provided by Wikimedia UK.


Royal Society indicated its interest in participating in the Wikimedian in Residence scheme at Wikimedia UK in November 2012. After discussions about how to set the project up, and the specifics of it, it was approved in July 2013, and started in January 2014, with John Byrne being successful at the recruitment process.

This pilot project aimed at exploring how the Society could work with Wikimedia projects and Wikimedia UK. The report below shows how various types of collaborations were piloted, and provides recommendations for further work. Throughout the project, Wikimedia UK provided support in terms of materials, advice, promotion of the activities, and review meetings.


  • Images - The official photos of each year’s new Fellows to be released on open licenese and uploaded to Wikimedia Commons. Other images also released.
  • Journal subscriptions – free subscriptions to the RS’s journals given to selected Wikipedians.
  • Events – 2 large public training workshops, and 2x2 for RS staff, with one for Research Fellows.
  • Two FRS engaged with individually over Wikipedia
  • Good media coverage of the Women in Science Editathon


While not a large holder of images on the scale of a museum, the Royal Society has a range of images of potential use, and one aspect of the role was to explore which could be released on open licenses. The RS had recently stepped up its commercial Picture Library licensing, after a considerable programme of digitization (not all these images are as yet online at the Picture Library), and employs a dedicated Picture Library librarian. In these circumstances it was soon clear that wholesale releases of images were unlikely, and these were not achieved.

The “jewels in the crown”, both from the commercial point of view and their potential general interest, were firstly the historic manuscripts, especially the 17th-century ones from the first decades, with authors such as Newton, Boyle and van Leeuwenhoek. Secondly there are the portraits of the fellows, with ones of Newton and Boyle donated by the sitters, but also an excellent collection of paintings and photographs up to the modern day. The photos up to a few decades ago had at best copyright shared with the commercial firm who took them, so for example that of Alan Turing could not have been released. It was in any case commercially valuable.

It was soon clear that these “jewels” would not be released, or very cautiously so, so a shopping list was put together and requested, including typical but not famous manuscript pages, a 19th-century colour illustrated book, some images of the building, and a few other images. The Wikipedia community had been asked for suggestions on project pages (History of Science etc), and the most suitable of the few received were included.

The treasures from the Library that we photographed

In the end the Library felt that as it was developing its Picture Library sales, it was not yet clear which images might in future be of commercial value, and none of this list was released. This is certainly an aspect of the programme that it would be worth revisiting after some time, when it should be clearer which images can be released without damaging commercial sales, or indeed cases where an open licence release might in effect act as advertising for the commercial sales.

On a different track, I had asked for the photos taken of the new Fellows in 2014 and subsequent years to be released. This was agreed, and certainly represents the most important success of this part of the programme. The photos were in fact only taken just after my term ended in July, with the Fellows having the option of their photos not being released, which 3/48 have taken.

I also arranged for Mike Peel to take photos of a selection of the historic manuscripts, and the Library was very helpful here, with Jo McManus selecting and writing notes on a very nice group of items, and being present at the session. The resulting 56 photos are uploaded to and were notified on the talk pages of relevant articles and WikiProjects.

By early September, only a month after uploading completed, of the 72 files uploaded, 38 (53%) were already used in Wikipedia articles, an unusually high proportion. The portrait of Professor Martin Hairer was used in 18 different language versions of Wikipedia, and other images were used in the French, Chinese and Farsi Wikipedias, as well as English.

The availability of high-quality portraits is very likely to encourage the writing of articles on those Fellows who still lack Wikipedia biographies. There are about 15 of these, which is already a better (lower) figures than for recent years such as 2012, where 29 still lack biographies.

A number of photos of the splendid interiors of the buildings were also released, another area where there is scope for future releases. In the light of the situation described above the desired outcome defined at the start of the project “The identification of material for Wikimedia digitisation projects and possible deliver” did not develop very far, but there is scope for this in the future, when the commercial exploitability of the RS’s collections is clearer, and so what may be released on open licenses.

Journal subscriptions[edit]

This was not part of the plan before the period began, but I suggested that an offer of subscriptions through The Wikipedia Library would be a good idea, and RS Publishing were very receptive. I wanted to keep the quality of applicants high, as the journals are all fully academic, and in large part publish primary research, which has to be used with care and some knowledge on Wikipedia. Reviewing the responses to the existing offers via the Wikipedia Library I thought an offer of 25 places about the right number, and divided the journals into three groups by subject area. The offer was open during May, and the number turned out to be a good guess, very close to the number of good applicants received, and subscriptions given.

The processing of the applicants was delayed by a change in the handler for the Wikipedia Library, but was finished in July.

Public events[edit]

Dame Athene Donald FRS adresses the "Women in Science" event

Following on the success of the Ada Lovelace Day in October 2013, and earlier events, the first public event was planned for International Women’s Day (in fact a few days before as there were other events on the day itself, which was a Saturday. The event was planned as an editathon with training before the editing, concentrating on biographies of women scientists. This is a formula which has proved successful at the RS and elsewhere in the past. In a more original twist, the event took place in two sessions, afternoon and evening, with a repeated training presentation.

The RS diversity email list and Twitter filled the 40 places very rapidly, with booking on Eventbrite, but there was a very high level of notified drop-outs over the 3 or 4 days before the event, as well as some no shows.

The programme included brief talks for the afternoon session from Professor Dame Athene Donald FRS and the RS Librarian. With hindsight these should have been dispersed over the afternoon, rather than all at the start with the training. The subject matched the RS Library’s strengths well, and the library were very helpful. A trolley with some 20 relevant books was in the room; these were used by several participants, but I don’t think any went up to the library to seek further resources.

Training for the RS and wider scientific community[edit]

Royal Society Diversity editathon, 25 March 2014

A number of training sessions were held for RS staff at the beginning of the residency. The departments involved were selected by Francis Bacon to be Policy, Library and Publishing, as well as Emma Tennant, in charge of Social Media. The attitude of the departments varied somewhat, perhaps relating to the degree of potential conflict of interest issues that any editing closely related to their work would involve. The library were the most interested, and Policy appeared the least. I was keen to engage with the wider scientific communities the RS engages with, but this met with only partial success. I participated in two training days on Communication and Media skills for RS Research Fellows, with a short 10-15 minute section as the day’s programme was already full. These are mid-career scientists whose work, often involving a whole team, is grant-funded by the RS.

I also addressed all 70 new 2014 Research Fellows for 5 minutes at their Induction Conference. While at the RS I developed the idea for a relatively short non-workshop presentation designed for scientists at the post-doctoral and subsequent stages of their careers. This is designed to show ways of having a useful impact on Wikipedia at a low time-cost by concentrating on talk pages and reviewing rather than primary editing. Talking to many scientists and other academics has convinced me that this is a useful route by which Wikipedia can benefit from their expertise. However it was less popular than a conventional training workshop among Research Fellows offered the choice, which was done when I had a table at two large conferences for Research Fellows, and at the training days on Communication and Media skills, so in the end only the latter was held.

This training session suffered from a chapter of accidents regarding the date and communicating the invitation, and was probably held at a bad time of year for many, with exam marking, holidays, and doctoral students departing. In the end only two attended, after the date had been changed.

The same timing changes and problems affected the last public event on June 7th, intended as a non-training editathon for neuroscientists and experienced Wikipedians, following a formula that had been successful at some British Library events among others. This was also held on a Saturday morning in the RS Library, thus saving internal room booking costs. The date was not decided until rather too close to the event, and the RS mailing lists did not produce neuroscientists wanting to participate. Those who did sign up were all the result of an email to a UCL professor who had attended the earlier International Womens’ Day event, and passed the message around her department. The RS Library was a beautiful venue, but lacked up to date basic textbooks.

As is often the case, very few of the new editors resulting from these sessions have edited (at least on the same account) for long after the event, but there are some cases where pre-existing accounts that had only edited long before the 2014 event resumed editing and have continued subsequently. For example User:Monxton, registered in May 2006, made a few edits until a burst of activity in 2011 and 2012, but then made only 8 edits between June 2012 and the event in March 2014, after which there were edits on other subjects in March and July.

The events were also attended by staff from other learned societies, including the Royal Academy of Engineering, Royal Society of Chemistry, and the Institute of Physics. The former two have subsequently planned their own events, and then a Wikipedian in Residence in the case of the Royal Society of Chemistry. Senior academics attended, including Professor Gina Rippon, Pro-Vice Chancellor of Aston University.


Isaac Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, fair copy manuscript for the printers, photographed by User:Mike Peel

A number of Wikimedia volunteers were used for the public and internal training events; I was very fortunate in the quality of those who agreed to help, wehich was a key part of the success of the events. In addition to this User:Fae will upload the new Fellows images and has provided other help re uploads. Dr Mike Peel took the photos of the library manuscripts and uploaded them to Wikimedia Commons.

I have given Francis Bacon an annotated list with the contact details of all these helpers.

Handling potential conflict of interest[edit]

I produced a personal conflict of interest statement on Wikipedia, explaining my approach to potential conflicts in my editing. This received some favourable comments, for example "Splendid. I wish all paid editors were as open as you", and no critical ones. I noted as an “execption” my editing of the FRS’s biography covered in the section below, and indeed his own, which certainly represented a conflict of interest, and again the handling of the situation was not criticised. I believe this shows the vital importance of full disclosure in advance or at the time of editing, after which the Wikipedian community is ready to assess a case on its merits. But undisclosed COI editing sets up a strong presumption that the editor is up to no good, if it does come to light. I have produced a draft similar policy intended for RS staff generally, which I hope will be adopted.

Other engagement[edit]

Part-way through the residency an item was added to the Fellows newsletter about the residency. As a result of this I was contacted by two Fellows. One I subsequently spoke to for an hour or so at the RS, explaining aspects of how Wikipedia covered science, and his area of interest in neuroscience in particular, which included limited editing training.

Another Fellow emailed me to ask about getting a biography on Wikipedia. I started a two sentence “stub”, and subsequently posted up, formatted and edited a much longer text he supplied me with. I also started an article on his family, distinguished in many fields. He himself began to edit articles on his family, and is now quite capable. I reported all this in various places as an exception to my personal Conflict of Interest policy, but no complaints were made, or text reverted .

In the Royal Society[edit]

Initially I was provided with a laptop and hot-desked. IT issues were a minor irritant throughout the project, as certain things could not be done from the laptop, and emails could not be accessed from a desk-top. My period at the RS coincided with a double office move for refurbishment, giving a period when most staff were encouraged to work from home for some weeks around Easter. After this was completed I had a desk but different laptops, giving further minor issues.

Though the web department and other individuals were friendly and helpful, if generally very busy, it was generally difficult to integrate significantly with the wider RS staff with such a short time actually in the RS. Uncertainty in some quarters as to the purpose or usefulness of the role probably contributed to this. The library staff and Publishing were always very helpful.


John Byrne outside the Royal Society

The initial media coverage, centred on the first Women in Science event, was extremely good. (links on the project page)

  • Story by Dr Nicola Davis, in The Observer 23 February
  • Story in
  • Wikimedia UK blogpost
  • The Economist
  • Guardian story
  • Motherboard story.
  • Guardian blog, Alice Bell, 7th March
  • Spoonful of science, blog by one of the attendees.
  • New Scientist, mention on 8 April
  • Forbes [picked up a quote] from the 23 February Observer story)
  • My blogpost on Wikimedia UK's blog, 20 May, repeated on the Wikimedia Foundation blog, 31 May, Highlights & Global editions
  • Film The GLAM-Wiki Revolution, including segments of interviews with me and other Wikipedians in Residence. 20 mins long, me at 7:25-9:55 and 16:05 to 16:30

After the residency[edit]

Francis Bacon is determined that the residency should not, as some similar projects have, leave no ongoing programme at the end of the project, with which I entirely agreed. Apart from Francis Bacon, Stefan Janusz has kindly agreed to act as Wikimedia liaison, fielding queries that may come in. Stefan is probably the most experienced Wikipedian on the RS staff, and is very interested in events next year as part of the Publishing 350 programme.

The release on open licenses of the photos of the new Fellows is intended to be ongoing in future years. This may well make the creation of more articles on them more tempting to the wider editing communities. Only about 1/3 of Fellows elected in recent years have any biography at all; though female Fellows rapidly acquire them, for males this is a very slow process.

RS Publishing will assess the subscriptions offer after the first year, and it is hoped they will continue it, as other academic publishers have done. Events are intended to continue, though at a slower pace. Training editathons themed on “Women in Science” are attractive to the scientific public, and have been very successful. For events with other themes some lessons have been learned:

  • Publicity should use specialized channels, often beyond the RS, which need to be researched well in advance
  • Co-organizing events should be considered. The RS Library is excellent for the history of science, and biographical topics, but it does not carry a wide range of current basic textbooks on particular areas of science. These are what are most helpful for events on a broad area of science. If an event can be held somewhere with such a collection, this could be very useful, as well as reducing the cost to the RS.



  • RS staff: Two-part workshops to three departments (Library, Policy and Publications), with about 20 attendees.
  • RS Research Fellows: One 3 hour workshop for two fellows, plus short talks to two groups of 8 as part of media & communications training. Addressed 70 new RFs for a few minutes at their induction, and had a table during break time then and at the main RF conference for 100+.
  • FRS: One in person discussion of about an hour, plus extensive online discussions with another FRS, who has edited successfully.
  • Public Events: 4 events, two in two sittings (afternoon and evening) each lasting about 3 hours. Total attendees 50 in person, plus 10 or more online. New articles resulting were 18, with 6 Did You Knows from the Women in Science event. Many other articles were worked on.