Computational Biology in Wikipedia Needs Serious Work


Wikipedia features as one of the resources with greatest impact in disseminating knowledge. A search in Google for computational biology returns the Wikipedia entry #1 in the hit list (Figure 1). A search for biological databases in Google, again, it returns the corresponding Wikipedia entry top of the list. Search for genomics, proteomics or metabolomics. Still, the top result is Wikipedia.

Google Search Results for "computational biology"

This behavior of appearing top of the hit list in Google happens for most things that are searched in Wikipedia. In fact Wikipedia currently ranks #5 in the list of most visited sites on the Internet. This prominence on Google searches are the result of the great number of links that compose any Wikipedia entry, which in turn is linked by many other entries within and outside Wikipedia.

The success of Wikipedia, initially attributable to the experiment of engaging a community-wide effort to provide accurate and accessible information to the general public has led to a massive development of the resource. Even in scientific circles it features as an important source of reasonably up-to-date reference knowledge [1].

Figure 2 shows a snapshot of the current computational biology article in Wikipedia. It does not mention any of the breakthroughs the field has experienced since the advent of the Human Genome Project or Journals or even Scientists who have shaped the field.

Wikipedia Entry for Computational Biology

The ability to engage a community-wide effort and the high ranks any entry in Wikipedia occupies in a Google search make it an ideal vehicle for development of dissemination of the significance of Computational Biology. It is the people who work in this field that are ultimately responsible to make sure that their findings and work are known to the tax payer.

[1] http://wellcometrust.wordpress.com/2011/05/18/being-a-scientist-in-the-age-of-wikipedia/

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2 thoughts on “Computational Biology in Wikipedia Needs Serious Work

  1. Thanks a lot Kevin for your comment. I agree with your view. I believe Alex Bateman is going to briefly talk about it in the Education workshop in ISMB.

    The idea would be to gather interest to create a Birds of a Feather during the event so that people get organized.

    There are two imminent things that I can think of should be done first of all:

    1) Reorganization of the Wikipedia Project for Mathematical and Computational Biology:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiProject_Mathematical_and_Computational_Biology

    2) Writing of the Computational Biology entry

    I also think we should approach ISCB to create a task force including a (moderated) email list where we start creating a sense of community for Wikipedian Computational Biologist.

  2. Manuel, I agree entirely with you. Thanks for leading the charge to get more bioinformaticians involved in updating Wikipedia.

    I think that part of the problem is that people see big holes, which are too daunting to tackle. It is pretty easy to fix a statement that is wrong, or add one paragraph to an existing article, but coming up with a list of breakthroughs in the field or major researchers is too much.

    Maybe you need to start a wish list of things that need fixing in Wikipedia for bioinformatics. I know I’d be willing to do some, but the few things I’ve seen that needed work were too big for me to tackle or too far outside my expertise. (I can’t remember names and have no idea who the “important” people are, so that big hole is not one I’m able to work on.)

    Perhaps ISCB needs a task force to put up lists of articles that need editing or creating, with volunteers urged (in each ISCB newsletter) to pick something and make even a tiny contribution.

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