Last summer, my boss Phil Bourne brought up an interesting problem for science. Wikipedia is the first place most people look for information, and yet most scientific research can only be found in scientific journals. Experts rarely have time or desire to move this information onto Wikipedia, where it will be accessible to the general public. Phil credits this to a lack of incentives for academics—the pressure to publish in peer-reviewed journals leaves no time for other kinds of writing.
His solution as Editor-in-Chief of PLoS Computational Biology is to start publishing Wikipedia pages. Or rather, to publish a new kind of article called a Topic Page that is suitable for broad audiences and will be published simultaneously on PLoS Comp Biol and Wikipedia. I thought this was a great idea, and Andreas Prlić and I volunteered to be guinea pigs.
Today, I am happy to announce the publication of the first Topic Page. “Circular Permutation in Proteins”. It is peer reviewed and indexed by PubMed. It also appears as the Wikipedia page Circular permutation in proteins. In the past few hours there have already been edits by 5 people. I am excited to see how the Wikipedia community will improve my humble article. The PLoS PDF looks nice, but it is already outdated. In contrast, the Wikipedia version feels very much alive.
It was fun to be a part of the process of starting a new method of publishing. One of the problems we had is that while PLoS Comp Biol is an open-access journal, it has a slightly different license from Wikipedia. So I had to set up a wiki of our own on which to draft Topic Pages. I now know far more about administering a website than I did from my comparatively simple other websites (such as this blog). I also liked drafting a paper on a wiki. It’s easy to collaborate with someone else (although not real-time, like Google Docs), and the markup syntax is powerful but intuitive. I would consider drafting other scientific papers on wikis in the future.
Finally, here’s a few links if you found this interesting:
- Topic Pages: PLoS Computational Biology Meets Wikipedia, the official PLoS announcement of Topic Pages, published in the same issue as “Circular Permutation in Proteins.”
- PLoS comp biol goes Wikipedia, a post by Andreas about the need for Topic Pages and his perspective on our article.
- A discussion on WikiProject Computational Biology about Topic Pages
- The Topic Pages Wiki draft of our page, which includes a full version history.