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Researchers improve Wikipedia

Wikipedia has been called the world’s biggest collective knowledge project. Now a project is starting to spread LiU’s research better via Wikipedia and in that way reach more people. 

Sassa Persson and Sara Råsberghe Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, SLU, was the first in the world to do this. Taking their experience a project is now starting whereby LiU, in conjunction with the University of Gothenburg, the Karolinska Institutet and the National Veterinary Institute, want to try to spread more of their research and knowledge via Wikipedia. And to become second in the world to do it.

The project managers are Sassa Persson of the University Library and Sara Råsberg of the Communications Office.

“Spreading knowledge of the research is part of most research work and projects. Wikipedia is a good, simple means of doing so.”

The project will run for two years with funds from Formas.

“Mainly we want to promote the research itself, not the university or the individual researcher or the doctoral student,” says Sassa Persson. “By contributing with our research we also raise the quality and reinforce the authenticity of Wikipedia.”

“If you Google a subject it’s usually the Wikipedia link that comes up first,” says Sara Råsberg. “Even journalists google which means it is easier for the media to find both knowledge about and researchers with competence in any given field.”

During the autumn the project will trial some research areas using, for example, information from press releases that were sent out. Going forward there are plans to train researchers and PhD students.

“The aim is for the researchers themselves to get involved in this and to either add to existing subjects on Wikipedia or to set out new subject areas,” says Sassa Persson. “We hope and believe there is a pleasure in spreading knowledge about your research field yourself.”

“Researchers and doctoral students who want to be a part of it are welcome to get in touch. Also hopefully other colleagues who know about Wikipedia,” says Sara Råsberg. “We contribute our knowledge of Wikipedia, the researchers contribute with knowledge of their respective subjects.”

The idea came from SLU who have been doing this for a couple of years. The original instigator was Olle Terenius, reader in biology who has many years of experience as an author on Wikipedia.

“I did a little research and looked at the big universities like Harvard, Oxford and Stanford but found nothing. Then I contacted Wikipedia in the USA. They said a lot of people had tried but not succeeded. But if anyone’s going to succeed I guess Sweden is often first into the breach in IT things.”

So SLU were the first in the world to work in this way with Wikipedia. And things have gone well. It’s clear who the contributor is, trustworthiness increases and it shows how the university does care about its public outreach mandate.

Olle Terenius’ advice is to use the text from press releases.

“They are already written with a broad audience in mind and there is no extra work.”

He also gives some examples of how when a press release was sent out the number of searches for that subject increased markedly.

  • When SLU sent out a press release about large scale clearance being a threat to the willow tit (Storskalig röjning och gallring hot mot talltitor) the number of Wikipedia searches for willow tit (talltita) more than doubled.
  • When they sent out a press release about fox dwarf tapeworms being  found in water voles in a new area, (Rävens dvärgbandmask hittad hos vattensork i nytt område) the number of searches for fox dwarf tapeworm, (rävens dvärgbandmask), was ten times greater than normal.
  • He also gives examples of colleagues at the Centre for Biological Control at SLU who addressed their subject on Wikipedia in a joint workshop. They had noticed that what was written under Biological Control in Swedish on Wikipedia was not really complete so they felt duty-bound to do something about it.

“The templates for editing on Wikipedia have become much simpler. It takes no more than a quarter of an hour to create a user account. And I have held 30 minute long training seminars,” says Olle Terenius.

Another important aspect is how Wikipedia works in the spreading of knowledge in developing countries. If the researchers write in English, or their respective mother tongues, the information reaches Wikipedia Zero, a project with the aim of giving access to Wikipedia free of charge on mobile telephones. Wikipedia Zero is used above all in developing countries in Africa and Asia. The aim is to reduce obstacles to free access to knowledge. One of the main obstacles is the cost of data usage.

So Liu can be the second university in the world to work in this way with Wikipedia! Do you want to take part?
Contact Sara Råsberg, sara.rasberg@liu.se or Sassa Persson, sassa.persson@liu.se


Read more about the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences on Wikipedia:

Elisabet Wahrby 2015-06-16

Page manager: elisabet.wahrby@liu.se
Last updated: 2015-06-24