“We Cannot Allow a Wikipedia Gap!” in Spontaneous Generations

The new open-access history of science, technology and medicine journal from the University of Toronto, Spontaneous Generations, has its first issue online. I look forward to reading a lot of it; the “focused discussion” on scientific expertise looks very interesting, and both of the peer-reviewed articles look good as well.

Of course, most exciting for me is the publication of my opinion piece, the very first article in the first issue of Spontaneous Generations: “We Cannot Allow a Wikipedia Gap!” (pdf), a call for historians of science, technology and medicine to get involved with Wikipedia.

I’m going to try to work some of this content into Wikipedia (and hopefully others will help), as a way of supporting open content journals. The first one, “An Engineer’s View of an Ideal Society” (pdf), looks like a perfect source for improving Wikipedia’s “C. H. Douglas” and “Social Credit” articles. The second article, “Mothers, Babies, and the Colonial State” (pdf), focuses on health reform in Nigeria from 1925 to 1945 (while it was still a British colony). This is one where it will be tougher to integrate into the existing Wikipedia coverage; there is a short article on “health care in Nigeria“, but no discussion of its history. And that article is one of just two “health care in X” articles for all of Africa (the other is Uganda). There is no article on “health care in Africa”. The history of medicine and public health coverage is also quite slim, making it hard to bridge the gap between the kind of work scholars in those fields do and the kinds of broader coverage that Wikipedia sometimes does well. Unfortunately, I don’t know of any professional historians of medicine or grad students who are active Wikipedians.

130 thoughts on ““We Cannot Allow a Wikipedia Gap!” in Spontaneous Generations”

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  2. Hey Sage,
    I can’t figure out another way to contact you so I am posting a comment. I love you bee pictures and want to use the one of the bee covered in pollen in an art piece. I am wondering if you know what flower the bee is on. I am going to keep looking elsewhere for the information as well. You can email me at vividweb@indra.com. Thanks.

  3. Hi Sage,

    I’ve found your blog via your piece “Wikipedia and the History of Science” in the current issue of the newsletter of the HSS – it’s very interesting, thank you a lot!

    I have a question about the “Wikipedia Gap”: What actually do you refer to by that phrase?

    I can come up with two very different explanations – which one did you actually have in mind?

    Does it refer to the ever‐widening gaps between the islands of specialized knowledge (citing your “Spontaneous Generations” piece), that Wikipedia may help to overcome?

    Or does it mean the gap between scholarly well-established knowledge and the qualitatively watered-down version of this, including errors and debunked myths that can be found in some Wikipedia entries?

    I definitely like your idea that experts should engage to close the gap in the latter case, and that in general Wikipedia may be helpful to bridge the former one.

    Or did you have in mind even something else?

    Thanks, Stefan

  4. Stefan,

    Thanks! The Wikipedia Gap I had in mind was the gap between history of science coverage on Wikipedia and the coverage of other topics; I think good Wikipedia material is a great way to get people interested in what we do (and hence, a way to better compete in the literal marketplace of ideas that is the modern academy). Other people I’ve talked to find that a bit far-fetched, but I think it could have a significant impact over the course of five or ten years.

    It was also a way to play off of the coincidental Stangelove allusions in the titles of two articles about Wikipedia from an academic perspective (cited at the end of the Spontaneous Generations article) that both came out around the time I was writing that article.

  5. Hi Sage,

    thank you for the explanation!

    ….but I think it could have a significant impact over the course of five or ten years.

    I agree with you on that. I found your example with the huge number of readers of the Einstein entry very convincing – it may be a chance to counterbalance science textbook “history” of science.

    Best regards, Stefan

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