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Wikipedia, open access and knowledge dissemination

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We can provide high quality academic content that is just two clicks away from starting the browser. First is the Wikipedia article in search results and the second is the open access article linked there. If a reference to an open access academic journal becomes the standard for all information provided on Wikipedia, we will have made huge progress in the dissemination of academic knowledge. Gaining access to specialized knowledge will be easier than ever before.

Wikipedia is the most popular Internet encyclopedia, covering all disciplines of human knowledge. Anyone can edit its content, thus it is also probably the biggest open science project of all time. Authors of a preprint entitled „Amplifying the Impact of Open Access: Wikipedia and the Diffusion of Science” stress the fact that Wikipedia gets 8.5 million page views per hour, which makes it one of the most popular websites globally. Wikipedia is also usually in top 5 searching results for almost any query related to both humanities and science, so it one of the most popular sources of science-related knowledge for non-specialists.

Should we care about Wikipedia?

The power of Wikipedia might be well described by an anecdote which Alex Bateman uses in one of his lectures. The story is about Manny Ramirez, a Major League Baseball player who was banned from 50 games for taking a human chorionic gonadotropin hormone. After this event, over 50,000 people viewed the HCG article on Wikipedia in just two days. Bateman also mentioned in the interview that Wikipedia provides up to 15% of traffic to Rfam database, which is a highly specialized website about RNA families. Thus, some Wikipedia entries may grab enormous public attention, and also generate massive traffic to scientific content.

„Wikipedia is a much better way to share your results with the public than public lectures and scientific roadshows, etc.” – adds Bateman – “It reaches many more people and it is a lasting source of knowledge.” Wikipedia together with open access can really make a difference.

Combining Wikipedia and open access is good for the general public. Because it provides high quality academic content that is just two clicks away from starting the browser. First is the Wikipedia article in search results and the second is the open access article in the link. If a reference to an open access academic journal becomes the standard for all information provided on Wikipedia, we will have made huge progress in academic knowledge dissemination. Gaining access to specialized knowledge will be easier than ever before. The barrier of competence will exist still, but all others will in fact vanish. Together with open academic courses it may significantly increase the level of scientific awareness in our societies.
The highlight of a preprint entitled „Amplifying the Impact of Open Access: Wikipedia and the Diffusion of Science” is that articles published in open access journals are significantly more likely to be referenced on Wikipedia than those published in toll access venues. This means that the process of making academic knowledge two-clicks away has already started!

Is it good to have an article cited on Wikipedia?

If open access articles are cited more on Wikipedia than toll access ones, a bigger number of links on Wikipedia will be open access, which is an advantage for the general public. Is this also good for open access authors?

Having an article cited on Wikipedia is probably not a direct way to boost your career opportunities. However, it might be seen as proof of being an important expert on the issue, which is covered by this particular Wikipedia entry that cites relevant works. On the other hand, Wikipedia will never cover the majority of academic articles, since it is an encyclopedia. Not every detail of specialized knowledge is discussed there – only the most important discoveries, inventions and notions have separate articles. And these articles refer to the most important and conclusive works about the discussed issues. Thus, if you are dealing with very specialized problems, your works are very unlikely to be covered on Wikipedia. But if you are lucky to have your paper cited there it is a reason to be happy. Wikipedia is not and will not become a primary source of knowledge for experts, although probably everyone uses it at some stage of doing research. As Bateman told me:

Usually, if I think I know something but I am not sure about it, I check if Wikipedia agrees with me or not. If it does, I think I am probably right. If it does not, it is a signal for me that I have to search a bit deeper. (…) I think that almost everyone uses Wikipedia at some point in his or her work, maybe with the exception of some seniors. Some may use it only to do quick and simple fact checking. I think that the technical audience uses Wikipedia to find their way to relevant information. And then there is a group of people who use it as a major source of information.

Therfore, more open access on Wikipedia is good for everyone. Is it already happening? Let me quickly run through the main paragraphs of the preprint which claims so.

Methods used in research

Let’s have a look at the methodology backing the preprint. The authors chose the 250 most cited SCOPUS journals for each of 26 disciplines. Some of the journals were indexed in more than one category, so in total, the researchers picked up 4 721 journals. What is interesting, 7.1% of these renown and well-cited journals were also indexed in DOAJ, as open access venues, which means that at least 7,1% of important scientific serials are today fully open. This is reassuring news.

Next, the researchers examined academic journal citations on Wikipedia to determine what the factors are that increase the chances for articles to be cited in the most popular encyclopedia. It is important to stress that the patterns of references on Wikipedia seem to be even more exclusive than those in academic literature. The average journal analysed by the authors only has 0.19% of its content referenced on the English Wikipedia. The Wikipedia coverage varies significantly among disciplines and surprisingly, it is the biggest for social sciences (almost 0.5%).

The authors of the preprint analysed factors like the openness of a journal, SCImago Journal Rank indicator (mistakenly called “impact factor” in the preprint), and the discipline of a journal, to examine their influence on the likelihood of being cited in the English Wikipedia.

Unfortunately, the team was not able to recognize openness on the article level. In fact, some papers published in traditional journals (which are not indexed in DOAJ) might be open access, since virtually all big publishers now offer the possibility to open a single article in a toll access journal (so-called hybrid open access). Hybrid open access does not really seems to be popular, since it is very expensive, but there are also journals that make all of their content open after some time (delayed open access) and finally a lot of content from toll access journals has open access eprints published in Internet archives (green open access). Therefore, open access articles are not only published in fully open access journals indexed by DOAJ. So, the real share of open access content among sources linked on Wikipedia might be significantly higher than the one observed in the study.

47% more for open access

Anyway the study concludes that journal quality, measured with SJR, strongly influences the chances of an article being referenced on the English Wikipedia (an increase of 1 point in SJR raises the chances of being cited on Wikipedia by 87%). But journal openness seems to increase this chance by 47%! I am not an expert in general linear models (and this was the statistical model used by the authors) so it is hard for me to judge the preprint, which was not peer-reviewed, but these results are quite impressive.

Wikipedia, together with open access, can really make a difference. And the preprint discussed here claims that the biggest Internet encyclopedia is linking open access journals more often, so the process has already started. Are you a part of this development? Edit Wikipedia and publish in open access. It will make us all more informed.

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