In February, the Wikimedia Foundation ran a survey with support from the Public Library of Science to explore the attitudes and beliefs of the open access scientific community with regard to Wikipedia. The open access movement is dedicated to the free dissemination of scientific knowledge. PLoS and other open access journals publish scientific papers under permissive Creative Commons licenses that allow anyone to download and re-use content. The Wikipedia article about open access, which itself could use some improvement, goes into more detail.

At Wikimedia, we’ve been thinking for a while about ways to directly work with scientists and open access journals. While scientists already contribute to Wikipedia in a self-organized manner (an example being the Gene Wiki effort), we have never made a systematic, large-scale effort to invite them to participate. Our exploratory survey indicates that such an invitation would be welcomed with open arms.

The survey was published on the PLoS website, blog, newsletter and Twitter feed, and the link to the survey was also more widely circulated, most notably in Peter Suber’s open access newsletter. 1,743 self-selected respondents completed the survey. Out of the respondents, 225 identified as PLoS authors. The subsample of authors did not differ remarkably from the general response. In general, respondents expressed a very favorable (58.98%) and somewhat favorable (32.19%) opinion of Wikipedia, and 87.73% indicated they used Wikipedia frequently or occasionally as part of their professional work.

71.03% of respondents supported some form of hyperlinks from open access publications to Wikipedia, and 91.51% supported links from Wikipedia to open access publications. 67.93% of respondents indicated support for large scale efforts to invite scientists to become Wikipedia contributors, and 24.73% indicated support for limited experiments. 81.82% responded they would participate in such an effort to improve Wikipedia, with roughly half of the respondents indicating they would only do so as part of their professional work.

While the survey is by no means scientific (in spite of the subject of study, it wasn’t intended to be), it indicates that efforts to reach out to more scientists as potential contributors to Wikipedia would be met with enthusiasm and support, particularly in the open access scholarly community. We’ve had some initial conversations specifically with the Public Library of Science, and are looking forward to continuing them, specifically with an eye to scalable approaches to future collaboration.

More information:

Erik Moeller
Deputy Director, Wikimedia Foundation