Monday, April 9, 2007

Wikipedia's Role in Science Education and Outreach, EOS, Vol 88, Number 11, 13 March 2007

I ran into this article a while ago on EOS transactions (Vol 88, Number 11, 13 March 2007) and it made me pause and think on the message in the article. I thought it was something worth paying attention to and hence decided to post it here for us to contribute to the thought.
The purpose of the article was to inform the scientific community of the popularity of Wikipedia and to urge the experts in the community to take a look at the Wikipedia entry for one's area of expertise. The author raises concerns because of the fact that Wikipedia articles are encyclopedic by nature and so provide students with an apparently complete source of material for use in reports and research projects. The question then is: "how good is Wikipedia" in terms of completeness and accuracy? Are students learning the right things? To make Wikipedia as current and updated as possible in terms of information, it allows Anyone with internet connection to write an article about any topic or edit any existing article. This strength also becomes its weakness because the entries are anonymous and hence could lead to vandalism as well as articles by nonexperts. The article cites several examples to show how many articles in Wikipedia are very well written while others contain erros and misconceptions or are incomplete. Hence, the author urges the scientists to be familiar with how their fields are described on Wikipedia and, if interested, to write Wikipedia articles or edit articles that contain errors or are incomplete because that way scientists can play a role in education and public outreach realm.
Inspired from this article, I took a look at AEROSOL information on wikipedia and found that indeed this portion of the Wikipedia needs a lot of contribution in terms of completeness and referencing. For example, a definition on aerosols was found but there were no references that could lead to further reading on the definition. While Wikipedia mentions PM10 as particulate matter, there is no mention of PM2.5 or PM0.1. There is a statement that says " Averaged over the globe, anthropogenic aerosols—those made by human activities—currently account for about 10 percent of the total amount of aerosols in our atmosphere ". Such numbers must be backed with peer reviewed references.
Going on to my area of interest, I took a brief look at aerosol radiative information on Wikipedia. Again, this information was not complete for a novice reader/researcher. There are several landmark papers in this field that need to be appended in this section. The section briefly mentions the limitations of aerosol observation and hence the use of modeling in estimating global forcing. There is multitude of both regional and global aerosol forcing research based on observations and modeling that needs to be inculcated in this section and referenced. The widely popular topics of global warming and diming seem to be most updated on the Wikipedia. The completeness of which is again under a question mark. This section needs the attention of experts in this field because incomplete information could lead to misconceptions on this intricate subject.
The present article is written with an interest to promote the thought in the EOS article and their recommendations on contributing towards education and outreach.
Complete References :
Wikipedia's Role in Science Education and Outreach, EOS, Transcactions, AGU, Vol 88, Number 11, Pg 134-135, 13 March 2007

3 comments:

Harish Gadhavi said...

Thanks Falguni to write about Wikipedia here. I use wikipedia regularly. True strength of Wikipedia is the fact that it has removed monopoly of both writers and readers. As long as one has internet connection he/she has access to quality information about any subject of world. Though so called non-expert can write articles, it is indeed the strength of Wikipedia, since expert belonging to one school of thoughts may try to ignore other aspects, on Wikipedia that will not possible. I have seen that most articles are backed by experts. Most of them pay attention to unqualified edits and try to develop consensus about controversial aspect of subject.

Neeraj Rastogi said...

I do agree with Harish that Wikipedia provides good information about almost anything existing. We shall use it to quench our curiosity but it is not something that can be quoted as a reference in our research article.

Falguni Patadia said...

I also agree with Harish and Neeraj and so do the authors of the EOS article. As rightly pointed out by Neeraj, it cannot however be quoted as a reference at this point of time.

The authors of the EOS article give an example wherein one of their survey shows that one-third of pre-service science teachers in a Boston University natural sciences course cited Wikipedia as a reference in their class reports on planetary exploration.

Thus the call of the hour that EOS authors make seems very appealing in that scientists must take time to be familiar with how their fields are described on Wikipedia and should write or edit articles that need more information.