Wikipedia has turned into a source of citations for scientific papers, although scientists do not refer to it

Original author: Bethany Brookshire
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The study found that phrases from Wikipedia articles relating to actively developing scientific fields fall into scientific work

Wikipedia solves table disputes and saves those who try to cheat on an evening of erudition. Quickly: in what country does the Nile begin ? In what year did Gershwin write " Blues Style Rhapsody "? On Wikipedia you can find answers to all such questions - including scientific ones.

Wikipedia contains hundreds of thousands of scientific articles, and it provides a way to quickly refer to the Zoloft molecular formula ", the inventor of the 3D printer and that the theory of tectonic plates has only been around 100 years old. This site is a gold mine for science lovers, scientific bloggers and scientists themselves. But although scientists use Wikis, they are in no hurry to admit it. The site rarely gets to the list of citations, as the source, for example, of the history of studying the brain-intestine axis or the chemical formula of polyvinyl chloride .
But scientists are rummaging around on Wiki just like all other people. A recent analysis found that Wicky's relevance does not lag behind the latest research - and that the words from her articles fall into the scientific work, and these results not only indicate the habit of using Vicki, rooted in an ivory tower . They also say that a free and accessible source of information plays a role in the progress of research, especially in poorer countries.

Teachers in high school, high school and college instruct students: Wiki is an unreliable source. Everyone can edit it, and articles change day by day - sometimes by one comma, and sometimes completely correspond in one night. “Vicki has a reputation for being an unreliable source,” says Thomas Shafee, a biochemist at La Trobe University in Melbourne.

But the same teachers - even college teachers - warn students against using Vicki, they use it themselves. “Scientists use Vicki all the time because they are people too. That's what everyone does, ”said Doug Hanley, a macroeconomic specialist at the University of Pittsburgh.

And, perhaps, the site’s reputation as unreliable is unjustified. A wiki is no less consistent than the Encyclopedia Britannica - as a 2005 study published in Nature showed (the encyclopedia itself vehemently objected to this conclusion). But no one dares to quote it as a source. “She is not respected like academic sources,” Shafi notes.

Academic science may not respect Vicki, but Vicki herself clearly loves science. Of the order of 5.5 million articles, from half a million to a million concerns scientific topics. And the constant addition of material by hundreds and thousands of editors guarantees the relevance of articles on a par with the latest scientific papers.

It’s easy to keep track of how recent publications affect Wikis. After all, they are mentioned in the encyclopedia. But does this connection work the other way? Are scientific articles leaking from Wiki to academic literature, even if they aren’t even quoted? Hanley and colleague Neil Thompson, who studies innovation at MIT, decided to approach this issue from two fronts.

First, they identified 1.1 million of the most common scientific words in articles published in the science giant Elsevier. Hanley and Thompson then examined how often these words are added or removed from Wiki over time, and are cited in research literature. They focused on two areas, chemistry and econometrics - a new area developing statistical checks for the economy.

There was a clear connection between the language of scientific papers and the language of Wiki. “If some exciting new theme comes up, it leads to the creation of a new Wiki page,” says Thompson. The language of this page is then linked to a later scientific paper. Hanley and Thompson demonstrated that after a new Wiki article appeared, later scientific papers contain more language similar to Wiki than the language of scientific papers in this area published before the Wiki article appeared. There was a definite connection between the language of the Wiki article and subsequent scholarly work.

But was Vicki herself the source of this language? The study did not answer this question. It only watched how the frequency of occurrences of words in various texts increased. It could not prove that scientists read Wiki and used what they read in the work.

Therefore, the researchers created new articles on the Wiki from scratch to find out if their language will affect the scientific literature. Hanley and Thompson instructed graduate students in chemistry and econometrics to write new Wiki articles on topics that were not yet on the site. Students wrote 43 articles in chemistry and 45 articles in econometrics. Then, half of these articles from each area were published on Wiki in January 2015, and the other half were held as a control. Researchers gave articles three months to penetrate the Internet. They then studied published scientific articles over the next six months in these two areas for specific words used on the Wiki, and compared them to the language of articles that were not published.

At least in chemistry, new articles have proven to be popular. The wiki and control articles were written on topics previously unreported on the site. It included records on the synthesis of hydrastin (a precursor of hydrastinin, a drug that stops bleeding). People are interested in articles enough to view them 4400 times a month.

Words from articles leaked into the scientific literature. Six months after the publication of the article, Wikis influenced approximately one out of 300 words in new scientific papers on chemistry. And scholarly work on topics described on the Wiki has become more like Wiki articles over time. For example, if chemists wrote about the synthesis of hydrastin - on the subject of one of the new articles on Wikis - in the published scientific papers the phrase “Passarini reaction” was used more and more often, the term used in the article on Wikis. But if the article on the Wiki was not published, then the scientific work did not become similar to such an article (and this could happen simply because this topic was gaining popularity). Hanley and Thompson published a preprint of their work in the journal Social Science Research Network on September 26.

Unfortunately, articles on econometrics on the Wiki did not trigger a reaction. “We wanted to choose something on the brink of science,” says Thompson. But the line was too thin. New articles on econometrics on the Wiki were viewed thirty times less than articles on chemistry. Thompson and Hanley were not able to gather enough data from the articles to draw informed conclusions. Well, good luck econometrics next time.

The relationship between Wiki articles and non-fiction was different in different regions. When Hanley and Thompson sorted published scientific articles on the GDP of the countries from which they came, they found that the Wiki articles had a stronger influence on the language of scientific work of scientists from countries with weaker economies. “If you think about it, then in a relatively rich country, a person should have access to a large number of journals and scientific literature,” Hanley notes. And organizations in poor countries cannot afford expensive subscriptions to scientific journals, so scientists from these countries have to rely more on publicly available sources such as Wikis.

This study by Wiki is distinguished by “a well-designed workflow and reliable analysis,” says Heather Ford, a student of digital politics at Leeds University of England. “As far as I know, this is the first work pointing to a strong link between Wiki articles and the development of science.” But, as she notes, all this applies only to chemistry. In different areas, the impact may vary.

“She addresses a question that has long been of interest to people that is difficult to prove,” says Shefy. There is clearly a connection, but, according to him, keeping track of the language is not the same as keeping track of how new ideas and concepts migrate from Wiki to the ivory tower. "Saying that more research is needed on this topic, of course, will be cliche, but in fact it is."

Hanley and Thompson would be the first to agree. “I think this is the first step,” says Hanley. “It has been shown that Wiki is not just a passive resource, it affects the cutting edge of knowledge.”

This is a great reason for scientists to get involved and edit articles, ”says Thompson. “This is a major scientific resource, and it seems to me that we should recognize this,” says Thompson. “It is useful to make sure that science on Wiki is well and fully described.” Good wiki articles can not only solve table disputes. They can help promote science. After all, in the end, scientists are watching her, even if not admitting to it.