Why Wikipedia and open access are a natural match

John Willinsky, from the University of British Columbia, makes an excellent point in his recent article “What open access research can do for Wikipedia“.  Wikipedia‘s goal is to be a universally freely accessible encyclopedia of human knowledge. A central aspect of Wikipedia’s is that it does not contain original research, but rather, it aims to cite authoritative sources for the information that it contains.

Willinsky notes that there is a natural fit between Wikipedia and open access research. If citations point to articles in traditional subscriber-only journals, a typical Wikipedia user will not be able to follow the link to the source article to find further information and/or to judge its credibility.

But Willinsky provides evidence that in many cases there already exists relevant open access research and scholarship that would serve as an excellent cited source material for the Wikipedia entry, but in few cases do the existing entries include such links.

“This study demonstrates among a sample of 100 Wikipedia entries, which included 168 sources or references, only two percent of the entries provided links to open access research and scholarship. However, it proved possible to locate, using Google Scholar and other search engines, relevant examples of open access work for 60 percent of a sub-set of 20 Wikipedia entries. The results suggest that much more can be done to enrich and enhance this encyclopedia’s representation of the current state of knowledge.”

Willinsky identifies some of the benefits that would result from adding links to open access resources for further reading, and as authority for the information in the Wikipedia article.

“Wikipedia […] can begin to act as more of a gateway to learning and knowledge, in addition to being a ready reference source. “

He points out that there could deliver a positive feedback loop, by encouraging more researchers to publish in open access journals:

“If Wikipedia were to form more of a public access point to this research and if public expectations around this ‘see for yourself’ posture increases, then researchers and scholars may well have a greater incentive to make their published work open.”

Willinsky goes on to provide practical suggestions for Wikipedia contributors on how to make the best use of the open access resources available to them. Interestingly, Willinsky echoes a previous entry on the BioMed Central blog, noting that:

“Google Scholar was able to locate all of the open access resources found with the other search engines [but] Google Scholar does not yet provide a ready means of identifying open access materials on the Web”.

Ben Goldacre discussed a related issue not long ago in his ¿Bad Science¿ column in The Guardian, which is that science journalists rarely provide a link to the original research behind a science news story, even when the research article concerned Is open access. The problem, perhaps, is that journalists have grown so acclimatized to access barriers that they routinely don¿t bother making a link, on the assumption that their readers won¿t have access. This is one of reason why it would be so beneficial for services such as Google and Google Scholar to flag resources that are open access, as a reminder to journalists, bloggers, and wikipedia authors alike:  ¿this is an open access resource ¿ you have access to it, and your readers do too¿.

This topic also ties in with a recent blog post by Pedro Beltrão, who discusses the hassles of obtaining permission to use images from an article when blogging a science story. As Pedro notes, open access journals are especially blog-friendly, since for example, all images within BioMed Central research articles are Creative Commons Licensed and so can be reused freely as long as the source is acknowledged.

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