O'Really?

September 26, 2012

Fellows of the Wiki Society? The Royal Society in London experiments with Wikipedia

wiki wiki

The wiki-wiki (quick) shuttle bus in Hawaii by xordroyd. Creative Commons licensed picture from Flickr.

Regular readers of this blog might remember that back in June of this year, I suggested that the Royal Society should employ a wikipedian in residence. After emailing, blogging and other ranting, Paul Nurse got in touch with me to say that the Society was sympathetic to the idea and would investigate. His email is reproduced below:

From: Paul.Nurse ate royalsociety.org
Subject: Re: An Open Letter to the Royal Society: Please employ a wikipedian in residence
To: hulld ate cs.man.ac.uk
cc: Aosaf.Afzal ate royalsociety.org

Dear Duncan

I floated your idea about Wikipedia in the Society and it is being looked at to see what might be possible. Thanks for your suggestion.

Best wishes.

Paul

Time passed and the English summer dripped by in it’s typically rainy fashion. Then, earlier this month, Francis Bacon (not that Francis Bacon, but this Francis Bacon) contacted me, to say the Society is organising an edit-a-thon. With help from Uta Frith, the society is going to investigate the possibilities of wikipedia using Women in Science workshop as a pilot project. See Women of Wikipedia edit planned on BBC News.

This is great news and the event was fully booked in less than a day. It’s good to see a venerable society embracing new and disruptive technology in this way.

Compare and contrast the Royal Society with the Wiki Society

It is informative (and entertaining) to compare and contrast the Royal Society with wikipedia as the two organisiastions share some aims but are very different beasts:

wikipedia.org royalsociety.org
Purpose A place where every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. To recognise, promote, and support excellence in science and to encourage the development and use of science for the benefit of humanity
Funding The Wikimedia foundation is a non-profit organisation that relies on donations to keep it going A registered charity in the UK, funding comes in the form of gifts and legacies from a range individuals and organisations
How to Join Egalitarian: any idiot one can click on the edit button to become a fellow of the wiki-society (FWS), also known as a wikipedian Elitist: Each year over 700 candidates are proposed by the existing Fellowship. From this pool, 44 Fellows, 8 Foreign Members and up to 1 Honorary Fellow are elected by a rigorous process. You have to do some pretty remarkable science or engineering to become an FRS
Age Only 11 years old in 2012, not even a troublesome teenager (yet). Has wisdom beyond its years. Over 350 years old, some of it’s members invented the modern world and continue to shape it today
Location Virtually the wiki-society is anywhere there is an internet connection. Physically, the head quarters are in San Francisco Based just off The Mall in London, many members cluster in the supposed Golden Triangle of London, Oxford and Cambridge. Other fellows are scattered around the provinces with expats and Foreign Members dispersed around the globe.
Who’s a member 35 million editors, not all of whom are active. About 1500 living fellows including Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, Harry Kroto, Tim Berners-Lee, Paul Nurse, David Attenborough and over 80 Nobel prize winners. Thousands more deceased members including Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Robert Boyle etc
Profile Ordinary: Most wikipedians are ordinary and reasonable people, but internet trolls, spammers, snake oil sellers, lunatics, bigots, pedants, global village idiots, OCD sufferers other interesting characters are quite common on wikipedia Extraordinary: Most Fellows are extraordinary but reasonable people, some may also be Mad Scientists [citation needed]
Praised for Many things, see praise for the wikipedia and wikimedia projects. Funding excellent scientists and their Science. Engaging the public and young people in science through various events.
Criticised for The worlds biggest database of half-truths and white lies, see criticism of Wikipedia. Patrolled by annoying or partial editors and administrators. It can be frustratingly difficult to verify sources and wikipedia often lacks scientific credibility [1]. Being a nepotistic old boy network with an absence of women and very little in the way of youth. Ouch. Too many members have or currently work in, Oxbridge and London, possible geographic bias.
Origin The name wikipedia comes from the Hawai’in word for quick Wiki, see picture top right. The Royal Society is named after the British Monarchy, set up with help from Charles I. The name is a bit of a misnomer as you don’t need to be a royalist to join – republicans are welcome. In Middle English, the word Royal means s-l-o-w, traditional and painfully conservative [citation needed].

So there you have it, the Wiki Society and the Royal Society are unlike each other in many ways but they share a common goal of spreading knowledge. Perhaps the scientific content of wikipedia will be greatly improved through edit-a-thons and other events like this. Hopefully, the days where wikipedia will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about David Beckham but (at the time of writing) has absolutely nothing to say about leading scientists like John Aggleton, Garret FitzGerald and Margaret Robinson are numbered.

Thanks to Paul Nurse, Francis Bacon, Aosaf Afzal and Uta Frith for making it happen. If you can’t attend the edit-a-thon, watch this wiki-space via the twitter hashtag #WomenSciWP: interesting wiki-things might wiki-happen.

References

  1. Wodak, S.J., Mietchen, D., Collings, A.M., Russell, R.B. & Bourne, P.E. (2012). Topic Pages: PLoS Computational Biology Meets Wikipedia, PLoS Computational Biology, 8 (3) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002446

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)

References

  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.

April 2, 2009

Upcoming Gig: Science Foo Camp (scifoo) 2009

Google Classic: Please Allow 30 Days for your Search ResultsIn my inbox this morning, an intriguing email from Timo Hannay, Tim O’Reilly and Chris DiBona:

Duncan,

We’d like to invite you to join us for Science Foo Camp (or “Sci Foo”), a unique, invitation-only gathering organized by Nature, O’Reilly Media, and Google, and hosted at the Googleplex in Mountain View, California.

Now in its fourth year, Sci Foo is achieving cult status among those with a passion for science and technology. Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek wrote of last year’s event:

“SciFoo is a conference like no other. It brings together a mad mix from the worlds of science, technology, and other branches of the ineffable Third Culture at the Google campus in Mountain View. Improvised, loose, massively parallel–it’s a happening. If you’re not overwhelmed by the rush of ideas then you’re not paying attention.”

As before, we will be inviting about 200 people from around the world who are doing groundbreaking work in diverse areas of science and technology. Participants will include not only researchers, but also writers, educators, artists, policy makers, investors, and other thought leaders.

The format is highly informal: all delegates are also presenters and demonstrators; the schedule is determined collaboratively on the first evening; and sessions continue to be organized and re-organized throughout the weekend. This creates a unique opportunity to explore topics that transcend traditional boundaries, and discussions are of a kind that happens at the best conferences during breaks and late into the night. Of course, there will also be time to have fun and relax at Google’s legendary campus.

Sci Foo 2009 will run from about 6pm on Friday, July 10 until after lunch on Sunday, July 12. Campers need to make their own way to and from the event, but Google will provide accommodation and meals, and there is no registration fee. For those who don’t have cars, there will also be free shuttle buses between the hotel and the Googleplex.

Please RSVP  etc

We hope to see you at the Googleplex in July!

Tim O’Reilly, O’Reilly Media
Chris DiBona, Google
Timo Hannay, Nature

About Nature Publishing Group

Nature Publishing Group (NPG) is dedicated to serving the information and communication needs of scientists and medics. NPG’s flagship title, Nature, first published in 1869, has now been joined by over 80 other titles, among them the Nature research journals, Nature Reviews, Nature Clinical Practice and a range of prestigious academic journals including society-owned publications. It also operates the leading scientific website, Nature.com, and a range of innovative online services, from databases to collaboration tools and podcasts.

About O’Reilly Media

O’Reilly Media spreads the knowledge of innovators through its books, online services, magazines, and conferences. Since 1978, O’Reilly has been a chronicler and catalyst of leading-edge development, homing in on the technology trends that really matter and spurring their adoption by amplifying “faint signals” from the alpha geeks who are creating the future. Whether it’s delivered in print, online, or in person, everything O’Reilly produces reflects the company’s unshakeable belief in the power of information to spur innovation. An active participant in the technology community, the company has a long history of advocacy, meme-making, and evangelism.

About Google Inc.

Google’s Philosophy – Never settle for the best “The perfect search engine,” says Google co-founder Larry Page, “would understand exactly what you mean and give back exactly what you want.” Given the state of search technology today, that’s a far-reaching vision requiring research, development, and innovation to realize. Google is committed to blazing that trail. Though acknowledged as the world’s leading search technology company, Google’s goal is to provide a much higher level of service to all those who seek information, whether they’re at a desk in Boston, driving through Bonn, or strolling in Bangkok.

About Foo Camps

The “Foo Camp” meeting format has been pioneered by O’Reilly (see when geeks go camping). In this context, “Foo” originally stood for “Friends Of O’Reilly“, but it is also a meaningless ‘placeholder word’ commonly used by computer programmers, rather like the term ‘X’ in algebra. The success of O’Reilly’s original technology Foo Camps has stimulated a wide range of similar events, from Science Foo Camp to Disney’s Pooh Camp.

Obviously I’m thrilled to bits to receive such an email, I’ve been to scifoo once before and it was a fantastic mind-blowing experience. This time, I’m invited as a consolation prize for being a runner-up in the international science blogging challenge 2009 which challenged younger scientists to get a senior scientist to blog. I managed to convince Douglas Kell and David DeRoure to start blogs, so thanks are due to them for entering into the spirit of the competition. This year, the first prize was won by Russ Altman and Shirley Wu at Stanford University, congratulations Shirley and Russ, it will be good to compare scientific blogging notes with you both.

Now, it would have been good to win this prize, but the invite above is probably one of the best runner-up prizes I’ve ever had. Thanks are due to the competition judges Cameron Neylon, Peter Murray-Rust and Richard P. Grant for organising the competition. Thanks also to Tim O’Reilly, Timo Hannay and Chris DiBona, see you in the Googleplex!

[More commentary on this post over at friendfeed]

December 10, 2008

Congratulations Carole Goble, e-Scientist

Carole Goble wins first Jim Gray e-Science awardAt the Microsoft e-Science workshop in Indianapolis, earlier this week Carole Goble was awarded with the first Jim Gray 2008 e-Science award, pictured here collecting the prize from Tony Hey of Microsoft Research. You can read all about it in the Seattle Tech Report which says:

“As director of the U.K.’s myGrid project, Goble helped create Taverna, open source software that allows scientists to analyse complex data sets with a standard computer.”

It is very inspiring when colleagues win prizes and awards. Personally, I would not be here doing what I’m doing if it wasn’t for Carole and myGrid, and neither would many other people who work on (or have worked on) myGrid and related projects.

Carole, you are an inspiration to us all, congratulations! To celebrate your success, I’m off to commit some more of the seven deadly sins of bioinformatics [1]…

References

  1. Carole Goble The Seven Deadly Sins of Bioinformatics
  2. e-Science in Indianapolis: Carole Goble wins the 1st Jim Gray eScience Award
  3. Joseph Tartakoff British professor given first Jim Gray Award, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Tech Report
  4. Todd Bishop UK prof receives Jim Gray award Tech Flash
  5. Savas Parastatidis Carole Goble as the first recipient of the “Jim Gray eScience Award”
  6. Microsoft Recognise Manchester e-Science Contribution
  7. Deborah Gage Microsoft creates award in the name of Jim Gray San Francisco Chronicle, The Tech Chronicles
  8. Microsoft New tools for Discovery on Display at e-Science workshop

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