New study shows the surprising power of Wikipedia in science

October 4, 2017, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Wikipedia logo.

A new MIT working paper released last month and featured on Wikimedia Monthly Research Showcase demonstrated the surprising scientific power of Wikipedia.

Neil C. Thompson, assistant professor of Technological Innovation at the Sloan School at MIT and a colleague, Douglas Hanley from the University of Pittsburgh, studied the power of Wikipedia, the 5th most used website in the world, and found that the website can have a profound impact on .

Thompson and his colleagues commissioned graduate students in chemistry to create new Wikipedia articles on scientific topics missing from Wikipedia. These newly-created articles were then randomized with half being added to Wikipedia and half being held back. The articles they uploaded got thousands of views per month, and later investigation revealed that researchers writing in the scientific literature were more likely to use the words from the uploaded articles than the ones held-back.

"Our research shows that scientists are using Wikipedia and that it is influencing how they write about the that they are doing," says Thompson. "Wikipedia isn't just a record of what's going on in science, it's actually helping to shape science."

The authors find that, for a typical in the field, Wikipedia is influencing one word in every three-hundred. The effect is also stronger for developing counties where scientists may have less access to traditional science journals. "Public sources of scientific information such as Wikipedia," says Thompson. "Are incredibly important for spreading knowledge to people who are not usually part of the conversation."

"We hope that funding agencies take note," said Hanley, "this is a very cost-effective way to enhance the dissemination scientific knowledge."

This study shows that increased provision of information in accessible repositories, such as Wikipedia, is an important way to advance science and make science more inclusive.

Explore further: Asiacell to offer free access to Wikipedia in Iraq

More information: Thompson, Neil and Hanley, Douglas, Science Is Shaped by Wikipedia: Evidence from a Randomized Control Trial (September 19, 2017). Available at SSRN: ssrn.com/abstract=3039505

Related Stories

Asiacell to offer free access to Wikipedia in Iraq

February 28, 2017

The Wikimedia Foundation, which runs online encyclopaedia Wikipedia, said Tuesday that telecoms operator Asiacell will offer free access to the website to its nearly 12 million mobile phone customers in war-torn Iraq.

Wikipedia-academia collaborations benefit both parties

August 16, 2017

Wikipedia has been through many changes since its inception in 2001. Now that it dwarfs all previous encyclopedias in scope and depth, collaborations with expert contributors are aiding the increased focus on content quality.

Most Wikipedia health articles contain errors

May 28, 2014

(HealthDay)—Ninety percent of health articles on Wikipedia contain errors, according to a new study published in the May issue of the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.

Recommended for you

Archaeologists discover Incan tomb in Peru

February 16, 2019

Peruvian archaeologists discovered an Incan tomb in the north of the country where an elite member of the pre-Columbian empire was buried, one of the investigators announced Friday.

Where is the universe hiding its missing mass?

February 15, 2019

Astronomers have spent decades looking for something that sounds like it would be hard to miss: about a third of the "normal" matter in the Universe. New results from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory may have helped them ...

What rising seas mean for local economies

February 15, 2019

Impacts from climate change are not always easy to see. But for many local businesses in coastal communities across the United States, the evidence is right outside their doors—or in their parking lots.

The friendly extortioner takes it all

February 15, 2019

Cooperating with other people makes many things easier. However, competition is also a characteristic aspect of our society. In their struggle for contracts and positions, people have to be more successful than their competitors ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.