News and notes
Wikipedia article published in peer-reviewed journal; Wikipedia in education
Journal chief: "Modern medicine comes online"
Dengue distribution in 2006
Epidemic dengue and A. aegypti
A. aegypti, without epidemic dengue
The argument on Wikipedia over the benefits of crowdsourcing versus the primacy of "expert" contributors stretches back to co-founder Larry Sanger's break with the project to start the alternative Citizendium. Sanger's hope was that the new site would gain a much higher level of credibility through the scholarly and scientific qualifications of its contributors. He has since been critical of Wikipedia's accuracy and has questioned its credibility due to the absence of a formal peer-review process. Nevertheless, Wikipedia seems to have flourished while Citizendium remains on the outer margins of internet history.
Despite or, perhaps, because of its "anyone can edit" approach, Wikipedia itself has always been subject to dynamic tension between amateur and expert, generalist and specialist, and those with and without formal credentials in the field in which they are editing. In the latest chapter of this dynamic flux, longtime medical editor James Heilman (Doc James) announced on 3 October that for the first time a Wikipedia article has been published by Open Medicine, a peer-reviewed academic journal. "Dengue fever: a Wikipedia clinical review" is essentially the Wikipedia article on that serious infectious tropical disease, with some aspects of formatting and structure adapted to comply with the journal's house style. The journal's formal peer-review appeared on the article's talkpage.
The article is bound to ruffle a few feathers in the medical and academic worlds, if for no other reason than it challenges the established conventions that have defined the cloistered world of research publishing for more than a century. Heilman told the Signpost that a key stumbling block was the notion of credentialled authorship—something that goes against a basic ethic on Wikipedia but which in the open research literature is central to gaining readers' trust in accuracy and balance. True to this, Heilman is listed as the primary author in the Open Medicine article (on the basis that his contributions were the largest), with Wikipedians Jacob de Wolff, Graham M Beards, and Brian J Basden as the other authors. All are credentialled experts in the health sciences and are listed with their institutions. The authors' roles for the English Wikipedia are then listed under the unintuitive title of "competing interests": Heilman, Badsen, and De Wolff are board members of the Wiki Project Med Foundation, De Wolff is the founder of the English Wikipedia's WikiProject Medicine, and Beards is a featured article coordinator.
From the review article: a 1920s photograph from the southern United States of efforts to disperse standing water and thus decrease mosquito populations
Heilman says the publication of the review article underlines the fact that most mature Wikipedia articles are indeed essentially literature reviews by the very design of site policy. Like Wikipedia articles, review articles in journals (a sought-after genre for career researchers because of high readerships and citations) typically contain little or no original research. But when it comes to medical practice as opposed to research, he says: "what doctors want and need in the rush of their everyday practice is review articles, not original research articles, which are usually too narrowly pitched for immediate applied purposes". Review articles are like information hubs that present summary context and a great number of direct references, and this publication highlights their similarity to Wikipedia articles and the utility of both sources to working health professionals. Heilman comments that it is little wonder that Wikipedia is the world's most consulted source of health-related information, which appears to cast it already as a popular way to access the traditional function of review articles.
However, the fact remains that the boundaries around research publishing are closely guarded, perhaps with some justification. In a provocatively titled editorial in the same publication—"Modern medicine comes online"—Open Medicine's associate editor, James Maskalyk, wrote that Wikipedia lacks three things that are very important to research journals. The first is the identification of a single, responsible author "who acts as guarantor of the integrity of the work". Then there is review by "a trained editorial team, attuned to publication ethics". This second point may surprise Wikipedians who know the rigours of community nitpicking, particularly in the ego-crushing featured article forum. They may also be surprised that the journal perceives matters of language and formatting to be such a cleft between Wikipedia's text and that of the open research literature:
||A lack of a single, authorial voice in the Wiki process means not only that strong personal recommendations are unlikely, but also that the style can be inconsistent, and the sentences and transitions between them less smooth, resulting in a paper that might be challenging to read. Some “Wikipedians” have little traditional experience in publishing and the editorial process that accompanies it, which can lead to frustrations about content or format that might fit a journal’s preference.
Dengue menace: the aedes aegypti mosquito
that carries the disease. This Commons image, which appears in the Medicine Online
article, is slightly different from the one used in the en.WP article.
The third issue raised by the journal is the absence for Wikipedia articles of "formal peer review by at least one, and often many, experts who point out conflicts, errors, redundancies, or gaps". There was a gentle warning that "should the example of the dengue article be copied, this may lead to a number of rejected submissions to formally peer-reviewed journals."
Heilman says that Wikipedia medical articles might indeed sacrifice a consistent narrative unless they are very well looked after, but that this is not uncommon for prominent topics. He drew an analogy with featured articles; while some do lose their shine over time, others keep both polish and reliability, and are continually updated, through the vigilance of proud editors. This, he says, shows one of the great advantages of Wikipedia: its ability to stay abreast of fast-moving medical topics. (In this respect, the journal has made arrangements for annual updates to be indexed with PubMed—a casual reader might be struck by how much the article has evolved since the "snapshot" was taken last year for Open Medicine's external peer-review.)
Wikipedia already has analogues of the traditional academic review article, he observes, with featured forums akin to peer-reviewing, and key contributors and featured nominators akin to primary authors. Most high-quality Wikipedia articles in the health sciences, he maintains, are written by only a small number of authors. In 2014, WikiProject Medicine conducted a survey of all editors with more than 250 edits in health-science articles on all language Wikipedias during 2013. This revealed that about 50% of these editors are medically qualified as healthcare professionals, of which the greater proportion are qualified physicians.
Heilman's hope is "that making people aware of the expertise in the Wikipedia communities and the close relationship of our articles with traditional academic genres will attract more professional researchers to join us as editors". The publication of Dengue fever in the academic literature may be an important step in achieving this.
Wikipedia becomes part of the curriculum
Bruce Maiman wrote that Wikipedia has grown up on college campuses in his column in The Sacramento Bee (September 23). "Gradually and informally, educators who repeatedly warned students to avoid Wikipedia like the plague began making it part of their course curriculum, assigning students to contribute content, either by writing original Wikipedia articles or editing existing ones."
Wiki Education Foundation logo
Maiman notes the incorporation of Wikipedia into coursework at Georgetown University, Rice University, California Maritime Academy, Pomona College, University of California at Berkeley, Davis, and San Francisco, and the Wikipedia education programs in the Arab countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. The column mentions the work of Kevin Gorman, the Wikipedian in Residence at UC Berkeley. He quotes students and faculty as well as LiAnna Davis, Director of Programs at the Wiki Education Foundation, about its efforts to transition collegiate involvement from those individual faculty who edit Wikipedia to more formal educational programs.
Maiman commented that "since the program’s launch in 2010, nearly 10,000 students in some 500 classes have contributed 44,000 printed pages of content, editing thousands of existing articles and creating 1,900 new ones, all of it overseen by academics while students get credit. Participating schools run the gamut from Ivy League to community college."
He also writes that students find themselves challenged by peer reviews and the norm of consensus among Wikipedians, as opposed to the usual academic model of having just one professor judging the students' work.
Subsequent to the column's publication in The Sacramento Bee, several diverse sources have rerun versions of the column online and in print, including the Athens-Banner Herald, the Daily Hampshire Gazette, eCampus News, Myrtle Beach Online, and the Savannah Morning News.
- No new administrators were appointed on English Wikipedia in September 2014: See User:WereSpielChequers/RFA by month for the history of RfAs. Only 16 editors have been appointed to adminship in 2014 as of the end of September.
- Individual Engagement Grant (IEG) and Annual Plan Grants (APG) proposals open for comment: These two grant programs are funded through the Wikimedia Foundation. Proposals are reviewed by WMF staff and the volunteer grants committees for each type of grant. The total amount of requested IEGs in this round exceeds $500,000, and the total amount of requested APGs in this round exceeds $5 million.
- WMF announces new Vice President of Engineering: Damon Sicore has been appointed to this long-planned position. WMF is splitting the Product and Engineering department. Erik Moeller will lead the Product side. Damon's background includes experience at the Mozilla Foundation. There is a Wikimedia Blog post about this announcement.
- Privacy violation results in a resignation and a removal of user rights: A request for comment on Meta about an alleged privacy violation by a steward and a global sysop resulted in the resignation of the steward, and a different steward removing rights from the global sysop. The Ombudsman commission is conducting a separate review of the incident. The Wikimedia Foundation's Philippe Beaudette says that WMF will prohibit the offending users from holding advanced permissions for one year.
Keep up with The Signpost