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Wikipedia Referencing Significantly Augments the Diffusion of Open Access Articles as Recent Findings Show

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A Model of Zhejiang University's North-Eastern Campus, A Panorama View, November 4, 2009 | © Courtesy of Wesley Fryer.

As a Chinese university questions the validity of traditional impact factor metrics, Teplitsky, Lu and Duede’s 2017 study argues that Wikipedia is more likely to promote the visibility of Open Access articles, than that of paywall-protected ones, regardless of the journal impact factor.

A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.

Though the emergence of Open Access journals has put into question the importance of impact factors that journals have, as the influence of freely accessible scientific articles may also be measured by alternative, article-level metrics, efforts to give credence to alternative impact metrics remain relatively marginal. At the same time, a recent announcement of Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, China, that it will be giving articles published on social media platforms and newspapers the same importance as is granted to peer-reviewed scientific publications has caused a stir both in China and around the world, as it can portent a change in funding, evaluation and promotion priorities at academic institutions.

While this tentative policy shift takes into account differences between various social media platforms, requires that the articles be original and established quantitative criteria for digital platform visibility, the discussion it has sparked also highlights the need for out-of-the-box thinking about the validity of traditional peer review procedures and journal-level impact factors that Open Access journals have been readier to experiment with than their paywall-based counterparts. Even though the full implications and eventual effect of this move remain unclear, it also shows that strengthening or the existence of links between layman-oriented digital platforms, such as Wikipedia, and scientific communities is insufficiently addressed by traditional impact metrics.

In their exploratory Open Access study first published on October 13, 2016 and made accessible online on August 16, 2017, Misha Teplitsky, Grace Lu and Eamon Duede have found that referencing in English-language Wikipedia is significantly interrelated with both whether a journal article is accessible in Open Access and an impact factor status of a particular journal, even though these interrelations are not stable across other language versions of Wikipedia. The findings of this study also tentatively indicate that on average Open Access articles tend to be more cited on Wikipedia than subscription-model articles, even though Wikipedia referencing covers various fields of scientific inquiry to a very unequal extent with social sciences articles being most cited and dentistry articles least cited. Whereas this study has found that journal-level impact factor significantly predicts whether an article is cited in Wikipedia, when controlling for the impact of impact factors, Open Access articles have been found to be more likely to be refenced by Wikipedia than paywall articles by 47%. In other words, it follows from these research findings that Wikipedia, as a digital platform, makes a significantly stronger contribution to the visibility of Open Access articles than to that of toll-based publications.

Whereas impact factors continue to be important indicators for academic and research institutions, the emergence of digital platforms for the dissemination of content and knowledge, such as Wikipedia, contributes to the growing impact of news, social media or reference platforms on publication performance in terms of visibility, especially when openly accessible articles are concerned.

By Pablo Markin

Featured Image Credits:  A Model of Zhejiang University’s North-Eastern Campus, A Panorama View, November 4, 2009 | © Courtesy of Wesley Fryer.

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