Wikipedia entry on neuroscience: SfN call for action

April 29, 2009

Most of my readers will be unaware of this but one of the primary motivating factors triggers for ranting in this whole blogging thing was a dissatisfaction with the Wikipedia entry on MDMA. (It is a point of some pride that the current version of that entry references two posts of mine, as it happens.) Of course, this was only a specific trigger for a loose collection of motivations I have for advocacy and outreach on professionally-related topics.
It turns out that the Society for Neuroscience is thinking about online sources of scientific information too. They have launched an initiative to improve the Wikipedia entry for neuroscience.
The email letter I received is after the jump.

Dear SfN Members,
Learn more about the
Neuroscience Wikipedia Initiative.
I am excited to enlist your help in launching a new initiative that supports SfN’s mission of promoting public education about neuroscience by harnessing the power of Wikipedia. Wikipedia is by far the largest and most widely used online source of general reference information, used by millions around the world. However, the main Wikipedia Neuroscience page is still largely under construction, with many sections incomplete.
This creates an opportunity for all of us to share our knowledge with the broader community, build neuroscience literacy, and create a climate of more robust support for scientific research.
SfN is calling upon members to improve and expand the neuroscience resources on Wikipedia by contributing and editing content related to your area of expertise. The Society is also recruiting members to serve as facilitators to organize content and serve as resources for other member contributors. Read about the initiative in the latest issue of Neuroscience Quarterly and visit the SfN Web site to learn more about participating in the effort.
Thousands of you have told us that you wish to be more engaged in public education and outreach. Our plan to enhance the Wikipedia Neuroscience listings is a direct and tangible way for you to make the results of your work available and freely accessible to the world. I encourage you to get involved and contribute directly to SfN’s public education mission in a way that will ensure every individual with Internet access can benefit from the newest findings in neuroscience. I do hope that you will become part of this Society-driven effort to leverage the knowledge of our scientific community and advance global neuroscience understanding.
With all best wishes,
Tom Carew
SfN President

The parts I have highlighted in bold are particularly striking. Do you think SFN is as Web2.0 aware as the American Physiological Society? Do they know about blogging and Twittering and all that?

19 Responses to “Wikipedia entry on neuroscience: SfN call for action”

  1. Denis Alexander Says:

    This relates to our ongoing discussion of how scientists could participate more in public education. This is a good idea from SfN. I doubt the ‘thousands of you’ claim.


  2. juniorprof Says:

    The American Physiological Society that is trying to roll back the NIH mandated open access? HAHAHA!!
    SfN is with it.


  3. This is fantastic D-Fresh! Today we take over ScienceBlogs and tomorrow the world!


  4. Chris P Says:

    Some of us worked hard to get Alzheimer’s disease up to the Featured level on Wikipedia. Part of that was recruiting talented editors from other pages who helped shepard the page through the process. Glad to see that other neuroscience articles may make the grade.


  5. Nic Says:

    ASCB was ahead of the curve on this one, unless you all had a wiki editing session at your annual meeting? I think it’s a great idea to get more people involved.


  6. mxh Says:

    It’s a great idea from SfN. There are some terrible neuroscience-related articles on wikipedia and I can’t remember how many times I’ve had people get something completely wrong about neuroscience because of what they read there. A lot of people get their info from the web, so it makes sense to get some real scientists involved in teaching the public this way.


  7. Unfortunately, editing on Wikipedia can be a very harsh experience for people with little or no prior experience. They should make sure that they have long-term Wikipedians who are willing to help out and guide them.


  8. Alex Says:

    Yes, they should doubtlessly enlist some skilled editors- if you need an example of how a Wikipedia article can go horribly wrong you only need to read this:
    and compare it to this:
    to see how this can happen.


  9. DSKS Says:

    Check out the “wikipedia:sandbox” and fool around with the templates (there’s an editing tutorial there, too.) The interface is cumbersome in places, but not too complicated.
    There was a slightly rickety attempt to create a peer-reviewed rival to Wikipedia, Scholarpedia, but it never really took off.


  10. DSKS, I’m fairly familiar with Wikipedia ( is my account there). My point wasn’t that the interface is difficult. The interface is easy. But policies can be cumbersome or confusing to new users. The policies and guidelines are very different from those in most of academia. I’ve seen good researchers be turned off from the project because of a lack of assistance in trying to understand how Wikipedia approaches things.


  11. DrugMonkey Says:

    Joshua, I suspect this realization may be at the root of the broadcast call. Otherwise they would have just created a committee to do it. Perhaps the powers that be realized they needed experienced Wikipedia hands that happened to be in the SfN…


  12. bsci Says:

    While wikipedia is currently the defacto online encyclopedia, I wonder if it is the best long-term target for an organization like SFN. I’ve been watching languishing for a while, but the concept does seem to avoid some of the wikipedia issues. Each article has an editor, who can approve or reject edits, and there can be multiple documents for each topic which can be ranked. There might be fights with competing entries on a topic, but if you spend hours making a quality entry, you don’t have to worry about someone else coming along and ripping it up.
    It also puts authorship up-front which gives it a way to be used for academic acknowledgement of public service.
    That all said, I’ve never actually written for knol (or wikipedia) and my default online encyclopedia is wikipedia. Anyone with more experience with knol have comments here?


  13. DrugMonkey Says:

    The web is littered with pretenders to the professional networking throne who want to do a better job for scientists. Yet they fail because LinkedIn has the marketshare. They are a waste of time.
    Wikipedia, for all the flaws, is it. The go-to for online encyclopedic info. We really don’t need people to waste time trying to create an alternative when they could just be working within the Wikipedia structure to keep it honest


  14. bsci Says:

    I think the comparison to linkedin only goes so far. The trouble with the professional networking example is why would anyone want to limit networking to a smaller group of people? If the other services provided real, useful differences, they might get marketshare, but if their sales pitch is “we provide the same service to fewer people” they aren’t going anywhere.
    There are real differences between knol and wikipedia and it is not unrealistic to think that high quality articles in knol could get ranked high enough to appear on common internet searches (I don’t know about others, but I tend to get to wikipedia through an internet search and rarely go straight to their site to initiate a search). If an SFN sponsored group of articles is linked from the SFN site and the sites of a few major universities, they would jump in search rankings.
    Other knol options are that you could collect ad revenue from articles. You can even explicitly link to organizations and I’ve seen nothing against soliciting donations. This again is a source of potentially positive publicity.


  15. Craig Dew Says:

    Wikipedia is rubbish. Well-meaning and well-informed people can put hours into making a little bit of it unrubbish, and within hours it will be rubbish again. It’s best ignored. If you have any kind of credibility (and want what you write to have credibility as well), don’t link to it, don’t refer to it, and don’t try to fix it. It’s unfixable. This kind of exercise just gives it a credibility it doesn’t deserve.


  16. wybory sondaze demokracja Says:

    Even if it’s rubbish (I wouldn’t call it that myself) it’s still one of the best known encyclopaedia. And probably the best way to let the public know about neuroscience. So let just do the best we can about it.


  17. qaz Says:

    Wikipedia is remarkably correct for most of its entries. I wouldn’t accept it for a citation, but every time I’ve checked it, I’ve found it reliable. For basic info, it’s pretty damn good.
    More importantly, it’s the go-to source for most people. Outreach is about reaching the people where they are. That means Wikipedia. I think this is a great idea for SFN to support.
    PS. Also, don’t forget, even edited encyclopedia have errors.


  18. DrugMonkey Says:

    More importantly, it’s the go-to source for most people. Outreach is about reaching the people where they are. That means Wikipedia.
    Word up, qaz, word up.


  19. Maria Says:

    As a pop culture researcher, I have found Wikipedia to be frighteningly inaccurate when it comes to presenting the facts about the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. The importance of the 1970s is inflated out of all recognition, and the current tendency to hype that decade is plain.
    For this reason alone, I would not trust this resource – and certainly not for more complex, scientific fact-finding.


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