Outreach from home? It’s actually not an oxymoron. Done properly, science outreach using only a computer can be incredibly effective. A number of scientists have actually had great success using different social media platforms to share their research with the greater public. The online encyclopedia Wikipedia is particularly tailor-made for scientists. Open for editing by anyone, all you need is an internet connection (and hopefully some scientific knowledge) to make a substantial contribution to Wikipedia. The site is increasingly being used by researchers and students alike as a legitimate source of reference material. Which means that Wikipedia is always in need of more content.
ASBMB members tackle Wikipedia editing
To focus effort on generating this content, organizers have started hosting edit-a-thons that bring together beginner and expert Wikipedians for a set amount of time that is dedicated to a specific topic area. On April 4 at the San Diego Convention Center (during EB2016), the ASBMB hosted its own Wikipedia edit-a-thon, where students and faculty attending the meeting came together to work at improving the quality (and quantity) of Wikipedia articles focused on biochemistry and cell biology. Despite some severe competition from the concurrent ASBMB Game Night, the edit-a-thon had a respectable turn-out from meeting attendees.
As of April 25, the event had resulted in:
- 5 articles created
- 45 articles edited
- 180 total edits
- 259,000 page views (!)
Even more exciting is how the edit-a-thon was able to inspire attendees to use Wikipedia in their own efforts going forward. “I’m more excited than ever about using Wikipedia in my classes!” exclaimed ASBMB member Sandi Clement from Cal State Poly, San Luis Obispo after attending the event.
Sponsorship for the edit-a-thon came from the Simons Foundation, who has helped to put on edit-a-thons at numerous professional society meetings over the past year, including those of the American Society for Cell Biology and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, as well as the Wiki Education Foundation as part of their “Year of Science” (you can read more about the “Year of Science” here). As such efforts continue, even more members of the scientific community will be willing and able to get involved and start doing outreach, even if it’s just from their couch.
Finding information on Wikipedia is similar to paying for a car wash: the service is only worth as much as the detailing. With new discoveries in science happening daily, it’s important to not only have a Wikipedia page about a subject, but also to make sure it’s as thorough as possible. Unfortunately, not all pages are created equal. While pages on subjects like DNA or photosynthesis are well fleshed out, many topics are merely given a brief overview and a picture, a few citations, and then published and left to become outdated. For example, the page on the lipid transporter protein Flippase was created in November 2006 and is still only 8 sentences long.
Enter Edit-A-Thons: ambitious gatherings of amateurs and experts with the singular goal of improving the quality of topic-specific articles. These events are not limited to science: the 2012 World War I Edit-a-thon in London created 7 new articles and improved 25 more, while the 2015 Art+Feminism Edit-a-Thon in New York saw approximately 1500 participants in 75 locations (spread across 17 countries on four continents) generate nearly 400 new articles and significantly improve 500 more.
ASBMB will host our own Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon at the 2016 Annual Meeting in San Diego, sponsored by the Simons Foundation as part of the Wiki Education Foundation‘s Year of Science 2016. This session will take aim at improving biochemistry and molecular biology articles on Wikipedia. We invite all attendees of Experimental Biology to join us as we tackle a range of topics, including (potentially) cytoplasmic streaming, immunocytochemistry, and of course, flippase. Or submit your own below!
Edit-a-thons are not meant only for experienced Wikipedia editors; at most edit-a-thons, experts are merely on hand to teach novice participants everything they need to know about editing Wikipedia. In fact, Wikipedia has even developed resources on how to best edit specific subjects for beginners. At the ASBMB edit-a-thon, we will have table leaders who are experienced in Wikipedia editing and experts in various fields of biochemistry and molecular biology to guide participants through the event. We are still looking for participants to join us! To learn more and to sign up to participate visit our website.
Post by former ASBMB Outreach Intern Travis Radford