PLOS ONE Topic Pages: Peer-Reviewed Articles That Are Also Wikipedia Entries: What's Not To Like?

from the good-for-the-academic-career,-too dept

It is hard to imagine life without Wikipedia. That's especially the case if you have school-age children, who now turn to it by default for information when working on homework. Less well-known is the importance of Wikipedia for scientists, who often use its pages for reliable explanations of basic concepts:

Physicists -- researchers, professors, and students -- use Wikipedia daily. When I need the transition temperature for a Bose-Einstein condensate (prefactor and all), or when I want to learn about the details of an unfamiliar quantum algorithm, Wikipedia is my first stop. When a graduate student sends me research notes that rely on unfamiliar algebraic structures, they reference Wikipedia.

That's from a blog post on the open access publisher Public Library of Science (PLOS) Web site. It's an announcement of an interesting new initiative to bolster the number of physicists contributing to Wikipedia by writing not just new articles for the online encyclopedia, but peer-reviewed ones. The additional element aims to ensure that the information provided is of the highest quality -- not always the case for Wikipedia articles, whatever their other merits. As the PLOS post explains, the new pages have two aspects:

A peer-reviewed 'article' in [the flagship online publication] PLOS ONE, which is fixed, peer-reviewed openly via the PLOS Wiki and citable, giving information about that particular topic.

That finalized article is then submitted to Wikipedia, which becomes a living version of the document that the community can refine, build on, and keep up to date.

The two-pronged approach of these "Topic Pages" has a number of benefits. It means that Wikipedia gains high-quality, peer-reviewed articles, written by experts; scientists just starting out gain an important new resource with accessible explanations of often highly-technical topics; and the scientists writing Topic Pages can add them to their list of citable publications -- an important consideration for their careers, and an added incentive to produce them.

Other PLOS titles such as PLOS Computational Biology and PLOS Genetics have produced a few Topic Pages previously, but the latest move represents a major extension of the idea. As the blog post notes, PLOS ONE is initially welcoming articles on topics in quantum physics, but over time it plans to expand to all of physics. Let's hope it's an idea that catches on and spreads across all academic disciplines, since everyone gains from the approach -- not least students researching their homework.

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Filed Under: peer review, science, wikipedia
Companies: plos


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jan 2019 @ 10:47am

    Re: Nope

    The point of this isn't to replace "traditional" publishing of research articles (although that's definitely in need of some overhauling). These pages aren't so much "here's our groundbreaking research suggesting that core string theory tenets are incorrect" - they're going to be more along the lines of "here's what the core tenets of string theory are, explained by someone who deals with them day-in day-out, who got a Ph.D. in this, and didn't just read 'An Elegant Universe'." I would side-eye the hell out of any research article that cites a Wiki page, regardless of whether it's peer-reviewed or not.

    The point of this initiative is to have accurate Wikipedia pages not just for scientists wanting to quickly familiarize themselves with a concept, but also to have high-quality and insightful articles on niche topics that members of the general public wouldn't necessarily be able to write (or necessarily even know about at all.)

    The benefits to the Wiki author include having a peer-reviewed publication to add to their CV, and the clever researcher/writer can also cast it as a form of community engagement/public service.

    There's a big push in the scientific community right now to make scientific research more accessible and understandable to the people funding the research, and this is another step in that direction.

    Source: I'm writing a topic page for PLOS Comp Biol.

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