For the first time, there are accurate hit counts for comparing arbitrary articles. User:Henrik has a hit counter utility for Wikipedia pages, with statistics going back to mid-December 2007. (Estimated hit counts were available for up to the top 1000 most popular pages through the currently-offline WikiCharts.)
In browsing hit counts for history of science-related articles, it quickly becomes apparent that biographies have a much larger readership than explicit history articles. The monthly hit counts for the histories of science, medicine and technology (13829; 16925; and 15442, respectively, for February) are in the same range as the daily hit counts for Albert Einstein (ranging from 8,000 to 18,000 in February). Newton and Darwin bring in about half what Einstein does, and many other important figures in the history of science are in the 1,000-2,000 per day range. Unsurprisingly, most scholarly jargon concepts (important as they may be) are not read much: less than 100 hits per day for things like “Medicalization” and “Commensurability (philosophy of science)”, and narrower concepts (the ones that even have articles) may get less than 10 hits per day. “Paradigm shift”, however, gets almost 1,000 hits per day, and Structure of Scientific Revolutions gets a couple hundred.
I’m disappointed with what I expected to be the “head” of the distribution, the main historical overview articles, but the level of activity towards the “long tail” is relatively impressive. See, for example, the following sequence for total hits in February:
1. Science – 108271
2. History of science – 13829
3. History of biology – 4677
5. History of molecular biology – 1994
6. Phage group – 191
7. Max Delbrück – 1501
8. Luria-Delbrück experiment – 1230
These are in order of scale of the topic (and represent a possible trail of clicks), but are obviously not in order of popularity (or historiographical significance). The biography and the still-pedagogically-relevant experiment stand out with high hit counts relative to the scale of the topic.
For historians who want to reach a broad audience through Wikipedia, putting historical context into biographies and topics of contemporary interest is probably more effective than writing concept-, artifact- or event-based historical articles.
Tomorrow, I’ll look at what kind of hit count boost time on the Main Page brings, and how hit counts vary according to article quality for topics of similar significance.