Wikipedia and Chemistry: Collaborations in Science and Education

Image result for Wikipedia When this symposium was proposed, we were unsure what response to expect. As it turned out, we were delighted with the quality and the variety of presentations. The topics ranged from descriptions of Wikipedia itself, to use of the site for cheminformatics, through to use in teaching information literacy. The themes chosen were collaborations and education, which both fit naturally with the mission of Wikipedia. The session was cross-listed by the Division of Chemical Education.

Elsa Alvaro (Northwestern University) began by examining Wikipedia from the librarian’s perspective; how is the chemistry content organized and categorized, how has the quality and size grown, who is writing it, and how is it used and cited? Wikipedia is beginning to be used and cited in the chemical literature. Using data extracted from the Scopus database, Elsa found that the number of research articles citing Wikipedia entries in chemistry journals had grown to over 300 articles per year by 2014. The number of English Wikipedia pages under the chemistry category and subcategories has gone up to over 20,000. Something listed under the “chemistry” top-level category may end up being quite unrelated to our field, making it hard to use categories for such classifications. The Joker (comics) page is a good example of that. Chemistry pages also overlap with other disciplines such as physics, biology, and earth sciences. Over 678,000 editors (of whom about 150,000 are registered) contributed to these Wikipedia chemistry pages, while 8% of the registered editors account for 80% of the revisions.

Martin Walker (SUNY Potsdam) described how collaborations (WikiProjects) work within Wikipedia to coordinate editing and standards. He then went on to give a history of collaborations among the English language Wikipedia chemists and other chemistry resources such as ChemSpider and CAS. Martin also described new initiatives such as WIKIDATA for more stable data validation and informal collaboration with IUPAC for validating definitions. Future collaborations among chemists and Wikipedians rely on mutual trust and common goals in making Wikipedia “a richer and more reliable source for chemical information.”

Guido Herrmann (Thieme) continued the theme of collaboration by showing the mutual benefits from a relationship between the German language Wikipedia chemists and the well-respected RÖMPP German language encyclopedia published by Thieme. RÖMPP is able to benefit from the mainstream exposure in Wikipedia, while Wikipedia is able to receive expert guidance and use of the valuable RÖMPP collection. The concise and expert-curated content in RÖMPP, and the more detailed and comprehensive articles in Wikipedia complement each other and are interlinked, which allow users to choose the preferred format. The collaboration between the two editorial teams was mutually beneficial. 

Jian Zhang (PubChem) showed how PubChem has been working with the Wikipedia and Wikidata communities to improve links between the sites. PubChem Compound Summary pages now all include Wikipedia links. Although much has been done, some errors remain, and PubChem plans to collaborate further to ensure that links from Wikipedia lead to the correct records in PubChem.  PubChem’s data provenance information can add value to Wikipedia. In addition, those data and information held by the two sites in common could be used in validation; or the discrepancies in details could be annotated for further evaluation. The PubChem team is planning to annotate the information from Wikipedia API further, to correct and validate PubChem compound identifiers (CIDs) in Wikipedia, and also to get new chemical and drug records from PubChem into Wikipedia.

Roger Sayle (NextMove Software) demonstrated the value of data found within Wikipedia. As might be expected, Wikipedia can be used to provide glossary terms; its value comes from the large number of synonyms found in redirects, which often include “street” names and vernacular terms which may be absent from more formal resources. This is particularly seen in medicine, and drug terms in particular, where connections are only possible through the use of Wikipedia. A collaboration between NextMove and AstraZeneca demonstrated this advantage and also used the linking in Chembox to PubChem CID for SMILES retrieval. Another example used the cross references to the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) in the Diseasebox. More examples include providing multilingual support, named reaction, and parts of speech. In all, the use of boxes, categories, templates, and redirects provided by Wikipedia and Wikitionary supplements the traditional lexicons and ontologies in cheminformatics research.

The second half of the symposium emphasized the educational value of Wikipedia. Adam Hyland (Wiki Education Foundation) described the work of his organization in working with educators to produce viable classroom projects, where Wikipedia articles are edited and even created by students. Students benefit from seeing their work having a real-world application, and they quickly appreciate the importance of copyright and the citation of reliable sources. They also learn to work together and see the value of constructive criticism in improving their writing. Adam further introduced the support Wiki Ed could provide for instructors and students who use Wikipedia editing in their classes.

Ye Li (University of Michigan) then showed specific examples of such classroom teaching, which has long been part of the UM chemistry curriculum. The interaction of students and instructors with the Wikipedia community turns out to be vital, and can be very positive for students when handled well.  The editing of Wikipedia trains students in a wide range of information literacy skills, and they align very well with the standards and guidelines set out by the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL). Meanwhile, there are also significant gaps between the controlled learning environment and the open and diverse Wikipedia community, such as semester-based cycle versus long-term commitment, grading needs versus bit-by-bit collaborative editing style, and academic value versus neutral point of view. To avoid frustrations caused by these gaps, frequent communication, careful students’ training plans, transparency of class project progress, and working with the Wiki Ed Foundation are crucial.

Keith Lindblom (ACS Office of Public Affairs) described how his office has worked with Wikipedians to engage chemists more in editing Wikipedia articles and contributing to this important resource. This fits well with ACS’s mission to promote chemistry among the general public, who frequently use Wikipedia to learn about scientists and their ideas. The effort is a part of the Chemistry Ambassadors program. ACS has organized several edit-a-thons and was organizing one during the ACS Boston conference. Speaking and writing simply are the keys to reaching a broader audience as chemistry ambassadors.

Antony Williams (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) showed the value of the MediaWiki platform. He began by showing the rich data within Wikipedia, and the WikiProjects that support the work. He went on to explain how the collaborative environment of a wiki is able to produce a variety of other sites such as VIPEr (educational materials for inorganic chemistry), the University of California, Davis ChemWiki (virtual textbook) and the CINF wikibook (cheminformatics education). Open data within Wikipedia can be harvested to produce sites such as ScientistsDB, SciMobileApps, and SciDBs. The LearnChemistry wiki shows the flexibility of MediaWiki in education. Chemicalprobes.org (for probing biological activity) and Adverse Outcome Pathway (AOP) wiki (for adverse effects) help find connections between chemicals and diseases. Antony emphasized that MediaWiki platforms as a proven concept have demonstrated their value in leveraging scientists’ contributions and enhancing collaborations.

Chiara Ceci of the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) described the work of Andy Mabbett, the RSC’s “Wikipedian in Residence” in connecting British chemists with the wiki communities. Wikipedia edit-a-thons have been organized at RSC sites, and Wikipedia editors have been provided with free access to RSC journals. Like ACS, RSC sees the value of Wikipedia in promoting chemistry among the general public, and Mabbett was able to help with this in a variety of venues. One of RSC’s surveys showed that 48% of people find Wikipedia as a trustworthy source of information on chemicals and chemistry in everyday life (with 27% finding untrustworthy and 25% not knowing). Chiara also demonstrated the multimedia contributions, including images and voices, and international collaborations, through their effort. Much of their work can be found at Wikipedia: GLAM/Royal Society of Chemistry.

The session ended with a lively panel discussion, with questions on many different topics, ranging from enriching Wikipedia itself to copyright issues and instruction needs. A good time was had by all!

Three days later, a group of conference attendees and Wikipedians gathered for an edit-a-thon, a coordinated effort to create and edit Wikipedia articles. The session began with a tutorial by John Sadowski (John’s ACS Member Spotlight) on editing Wikipedia articles, including an explanation of the main site policies. About thirty attendees (and a few remote participants) then pitched in and worked on biographical articles on “notable chemists,” and more than a dozen of these were started or expanded, aided by a collection of useful books provided by ACS for the occasion.

Martin Walker and Ye Li, Symposium Organizers

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Working with Wikipedia
Volume 93 Issue 36 | pp. 36-37
Issue Date: September 14, 2015
http://cen.acs.org/articles/93/i36/Working-Wikipedia.html