June 1, 2012

An Open Letter to the Royal Society: Please employ a wikipedian in residence

Dear Professor Nurse

Fellows of the Wiki Society?

To improve public engagement with Science and Scientists, the Royal Society should employ a wikipedian in residence. Here’s why:

The Royal Society is a National Academy of Science which represents some of the world’s leading scientists. The stated aim of the society is to:

“recognise, promote, and support excellence in science and to encourage the development and use of science for the benefit of humanity.”

Despite the elitist nature of many scientific societies, a significant part of what the Royal Society does is engage with members of the general public of all ages through a wide range of events. The annual Summer Science exhibition, Royal Society Blogs, Policy Centre and Royal Society television channel are just a few examples from amongst many more.

Many Fellows are of interest to the general public and already have extensive biographies in wikipedia which are up to date, well-written, well-referenced and conform to the wikipedia guidelines for the biographies of living persons. Wikipedia biographies often appear top of the list of google search result for a scientists name, for example see:

However, many other scientists do not have pages about them on wikipedia. Unfortunately, alternative sources of information such as academic homepages are often out of date and not particularly engaging. Most scientists are too busy doing Science to spend time updating their home pages, as neatly illustrated by cartoonist Jorge Cham. At the time of writing, less than half of the notable and distinguished Fellows elected in 2012 have biographies on wikipedia, see below of details.

Putting scientific information into wikipedia isn’t as crazy as it sounds. Alex Bateman at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute [1], PLoS Computational Biology [2] and many others [3] have already made considerable progress in improving the scientific content of wikipedia. This information is immediately accessible to a huge global audience.

Wikipedia is arguably one of the greatest ever opportunities for public engagement in Science. By employing a wikipedian in residence, the Royal Society could improve and influence the scientific content of wikipedia, while engaging even more with the general public around the world, who are often just as interested in the scientists as the science itself. As the current president of the society I hope you will consider this proposal.

Yours Sincerely

Dr. Duncan Hull
University of Manchester, UK

(this letter has also been sent by email)


  1. Daub, J., Gardner, P., Tate, J., Ramskold, D., Manske, M., Scott, W., Weinberg, Z., Griffiths-Jones, S., & Bateman, A. (2008). The RNA WikiProject: Community annotation of RNA families RNA, 14 (12), 2462-2464 DOI: 10.1261/rna.1200508
  2. Wodak, S., Mietchen, D., Collings, A., Russell, R., & Bourne, P. (2012). Topic Pages: PLoS Computational Biology Meets Wikipedia PLoS Computational Biology, 8 (3) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002446
  3. Xiao, L., & Askin, N. (2012). Wikipedia for Academic Publishing: Advantages and Challenges. Online Information Review, 36(3), 2. Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Appendix: Fellows of the Wiki Society

As of June 2012, only 21 out of the 52 of the Royal Society Fellows elected in 2012 have a biographical page on wikipedia. Where biographies currently exist, they are linked to below

Of course, 2012 is just the tip of the iceberg, there are also the Fellows elected in 20112010 and so on back 350 years to 1660.


  1. This has generated quite an interesting discussion over on Google+:


    Comment by Nick Morris (@drnickmorris) — June 2, 2012 @ 9:25 am | Reply

    • Hi Nick, thanks for pointing this out. It’s interesting to read that it can be difficult for some scientists to make their edits “stick” – wasn’t aware of this. I’ve edited quite a few* biographies of living (and dead) scientists on wikipedia and the changes I’ve made . I suppose biographies aren’t controversial in the same way that topics like climate change, HIV, drug development and stem cell research are. I wonder what the best solution to this problem is?

      * 3,500 Unique pages edited.

      Comment by Duncan — June 4, 2012 @ 6:27 am | Reply

  2. Dear Dr. Hull,

    it might help to know that since 01 June the German Archaeological Institute (http://www.dainst.org/en), quite as ponderous as the Royal Society, has engaged an Wikipedian author as Wikipedian in Residence to further liberation of knowledge and forment the presence of the scientific results in the Wikimedia projects. Here the pressrelease : http://wikimedia.de/wiki/Pressemitteilungen/PM_5_12_Residence_en
    good luck

    Comment by Barbara Fischer — June 6, 2012 @ 10:23 am | Reply

    • Hi Barbara, thanks for pointing this out. Good to see more wikipedians in residence, especially in Science.

      Comment by Duncan — June 6, 2012 @ 10:26 am | Reply

  3. […] on the recent open letter sent to the Royal Society about employing a Wikipedian in residence, here is my open letter as a Wikipedia administrator to […]

    Pingback by An Open Letter to Pharma: Please Employ a Wikipedian « ScienceRoll — June 12, 2012 @ 8:42 pm | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

The Rubric Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,595 other followers

%d bloggers like this: