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
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.
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:
|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 |
|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 .||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 .|
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.
- 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