Wikipedia and RNA Biology

I love the RNA Biology journal’s new guidelines for submissions, which state that you must submit a Wikipedia article on your research on RNA families before the journal will publish your scholarly article on it:

This track will primarily publish articles describing either: (1) substantial updates and reviews of existing RNA families or (2) novel RNA families based on computational and/or experimental results for which little evolutionary analysis has been published. These articles must be accompanied by STOCKHOLM formatted alignments, including a consensus secondary structure or structures and a corresponding Wikipedia article. Publication in the track will require a short manuscript, a high quality Stockholm alignment and at least one Wikipedia article; Each centered around the RNA in question.

As my source for this points out, Nature (the publishing organisation behind the RNA Biology journal, and co-producer of Science Foo Camp with O’Reilly and Google) the publishers of RNA Biology already synchronise a database with Wikipedia. Apparently there’s a core of scientists who do most of the edits, but also a lot of other scientists who pop in sporadically to fix or add information.

Kudos to Nature the publishers of RNA Biology for doing something imaginative to increase the commons. Journals wield a huge amount of power in the scientific world, and it’s wonderful to see them using that power to incentivize good.

tags: , ,
  • Isn’t this a huge Catch-22, though?

    * Journal will not publish you unless you’re backed by a Wikipedia article.
    * Wikipedia policy is to delete articles not backed by published sources (your choice of “not verifiable”, “no reliable sources” or “original research is forbidden”).

    Or are they just shutting down the journal and breaking the news gently?

  • Credit where credit is due… Nature Publishing Group doesn’t publish RNA Biology, Landes Bioscience does! It is a cool move, though.

    We are experimenting with wikis. Lincoln Stein’s latest review article is freely available on an Instiki, for example, and we’re supportive of efforts like OpenWetWare.

  • Antaeus Feldspar

    Seriously, this seems like A Bad Idea. Back when I was active on Wikipedia, we politely but firmly turned down anyone who tried to publish their new research on Wikipedia and let them know that Wikipedia was not for such. Now this journal is actually requiring creation of an article?

    The Journal’s guidelines do recommend that these new articles should be produced in “User’s Space” [sic] but I still have to wonder if they’ve discussed this idea with … well, with anyone who really knows how Wikipedia functions. (And after the Marsden debacle, I don’t think Jimbo Wales counts…)

  • vanderleun

    The journal’s program is typical of the unthinking mindset of “Let’s do good by requiring other people to do it for us.”

    It’s the same thing you see in other aspects of life when, if something is underfunded, those that support it have no qualms about telling you to open your wallet.

    In other news, it is not good to see someone who is otherwise an intelligent person actually write out the phrase “incentivize good.”

    Do that enough and you will actually start to obliterate your own neural circuits.

    If your work in an area where people write and speak like that consider changing careers.

  • Well I guess, wiki might have to create a separate category for publishing journal articles. After all if the journal is a credible source why not spread it in advance.

    Seems to be an interesting idea.

  • Anonymous

    Nature doesn’t publish RNA Biology

  • @Antaeus Feldspar: the Fischbowl article I quoted said: “The RNA wiki is a subset of a broader project, the WikiProject Molecular and Cellular Biology, which has marshalled hundreds of scientists to improve the content of biology articles in Wikipedia.” It sounds like this has been worked out with Wikipedia, rather than a brilliant idea done alone.

    @vanderleun: while I often disagree with your thesis, I do firmly agree with this sentence: In other news, it is not good to see someone who is otherwise an intelligent person actually write out the phrase “incentivize good”. I try to adhere to the golden rule of “eschew obfuscation”, and apologize for my lapse.

    @Anonymous: thanks for the catch! I’m embarrassed by that mistake. I’ve updated the title and copy to reflect that RNA Biology is not published by Nature Publishing. My source cited Nature magazine’s article on it, and I misread. Apologies!

  • Lars Jorgensen

    It does work and having been doing for quite a while. The link bellow is an example of the integration of rfam database and Wikipedia.

  • Paul Gardner

    In response to James’ comments. The RNA Biology articles will be very review-like in nature. The wikipedia articles will also be reviews of the current published literature. Therefore the ‘no original research’ clause will not be broken in general. For those cases where this could be an issue the article can remain in the users space until the RNA Biol. article is published. We think this idea could work rather well, it should benefit both Wikipedia and RNA Biology and Rfam.

  • Hi Poul

    Are you working for RNA Biology? Can you tell us if RNA biology has contacted or talked with wikipedia about your procedure?

    By the way, I think the idea is great.


  • Hej Mads,

    Yes, I’m a new editor for RNA Biology. Over the last year or so we’ve had quite a lot of contact with Wikipedians while maintaining the Rfam database and corresponding Wikipedia pages. We chatted about this idea with a few of them. All were largely positive about the idea.