Wiki Scientists Put the Spotlight on Science Policy

Nearly 40 science policy topics have been given room to shine on Wikipedia, thanks to NSPN’s Wiki Scientists.

Every Wednesday since March 2020, NSPN members Dilara Kiran and Daniel Puentes have shared their Wikipedia expertise by leading virtual editing sessions. Participants have created and edited 37 Wikipedia articles on science policy topics ranging from medical conditions to avid birdwatchers.

“Daniel and I wanted to create a space where others who wanted to edit could have an hour dedicated to just that each week, and help each other maintain accountability and provide peer support and ideas for article edits,” says Dilara Kiran, one of the leaders of the Wiki Hour editing sessions. “I also wanted to give back to the NSPN community, since prior to this I had no idea about how easy it was to get involved with Wikipedia editing.”

Wikipedia, branded as “The Free Encyclopedia,” maintains strict guidelines for its content. Each article must be unbiased and represent a topic of sufficient interest to warrant a full Wikipedia page. Editors must also adhere to these guidelines when they make changes to an existing article.

Prospective editors can learn the ropes by enrolling in a course offered by Wiki Education. Through the course, participants learn about bias in Wikipedia, how to write in an encyclopedic style, and how to navigate Wikipedia’s publishing process. Nineteen NSPN members have participated in the course so far, earning distinction as “Wiki Scientists.”

The Wiki Hour’s organizers believe scientists have an important role to play in Wikipedia’s mission. “Wiki Scientists with STEM backgrounds are especially valuable to the Wikipedia community,” says Daniel Puentes, Kiran’s co-leader. “These people use their experience in science to write unbiased articles in an objective way.”

Kiran believes the experience also helps ensure that accurate scientific information remains openly accessible: “I feel that it is imperative, now more than ever, that open access information about science is curated and accurate. Editing Wikipedia is a great way for me to put my science communication skills to work and feel like I’m making a difference and helping combat misinformation.”

NSPN Wiki Scientists have authored and edited 37 articles related to science policy. Topics include the Seattle Coronavirus Assessment Network, the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, water resource policy, New START, and One Health. Since the start of the weekly editing sessions, these articles have amassed a collective 368,000 views.

And the Wiki Scientists’ efforts have sparked new initiatives too. “I am personally excited about a new community I am developing in Wikipedia known as a WikiProject, a space that focuses on an area covering several sub-focus areas,” says Puentes. During the Wiki Hour sessions, he created a WikiProject focused on science policy. He hopes the project will become “the autonomous hub for all articles related to science policy that are found on Wikipedia.”

Even with the project’s recent success, there’s still room to grow. According to Kiran, “Wikipedia editors are not the most diverse group, and very few women edit compared to men. I want to work toward increasing diversity in Wikipedia articles and amongst Wikipedia editors.”

“Wikipedia is something that anyone can help with,” says Puentes. “The [NSPN] community is made up of people from rare subject areas in which Wikipedia lacks scholarly support. We can be that support.”

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For more information about the Wikipedia Track of NSPN’s 2020 Election Initiative, contact Dilara Kiran and Daniel Puentes.

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