July 31, 2015

Wikipedia Science Conference @WellcomeTrust in London, September 2nd & 3rd 2015 #wikisci

There is growing interest in Wikipedia, Wikidata, Commons, and other Wikimedia projects as platforms for opening up the scientific process [1]. The first Wikipedia Science Conference will discuss activities in this area at the Wellcome Collection Conference Centre in London on the 2nd & 3rd September 2015. There will be keynote talks from Wendy Hall (@DameWendyDBE) and Peter Murray-Rust (@petermurrayrust) and many other presentations including:

  • Daniel Mietchen (@EvoMRI), National Institutes of Health: wikipedia and scholarly communication
  • Alex Bateman (@AlexBateman1), European Bioinformatics Institute: Using wikipedia to annotate scientific databases
  • Geoffrey Bilder (@GBilder), CrossRef, Using DOIs in wikipedia
  • Richard Pinch (@IMAMaths), Institute of Mathematics and its Applications. Wikimedia versus academia: a clash of cultures
  • Andy Mabbett (@PigsOnTheWing), Royal Society of Chemistry / ORCID. Wikipedia, Wikidata and more – How Can Scientists Help?
  • Darren Logan (@DarrenLogan), Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Using scientific databases to annotate wikipedia
  • Dario Taraborelli (@ReaderMeter), Wikimedia & Altmetrics, Citing as a public service
  • … and many more

I’ll be doing a talk on “Improving the troubled relationship between Scientists and Wikipedia” (see slides below) with help from John Byrne who has been a Wikipedian in Residence at the Royal Society and Cancer Research UK.

How much does finding out more about all this wiki-goodness cost? An absolute bargain at just £29 for two days – what’s not to like? Tickets are available on eventbrite, register now, while tickets are still available. 


  1. Misha Teplitskiy, Grace Lu, & Eamon Duede (2015). Amplifying the Impact of Open Access: Wikipedia and the Diffusion of
    Science Wikipedia Workshop at 9th International Conference on Web and Social Media (ICWSM), Oxford, UK arXiv: 1506.07608v1

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.


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.


  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)


  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.

May 5, 2006

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