THE Scholarly Web - 5 June 2014

Weekly transmissions from the blogosphere

June 5, 2014

Academic opinions of Wikipedia and open access will improve with more active involvement. So claims the title of a posting on the London School of Economics’ Impact of Social Sciences blog.

Written by Lu Xiao, assistant professor in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at the University of Western Ontario, the blog provides a summary of her research on academics’ perceptions of Wikipedia as an outlet for academic publishing.

“Social and technological advances have brought about significant changes in methods of publication, particularly via a shift to electronic or online media,” she writes. “The openaccess publishing model is predicated upon that shift.

“In the past decade there has been a proliferation of free online information beyond the academic journal,” she continues, highlighting the user-generated Wikipedia, the world’s largest online encyclopedia, as one of the most prominent examples.

“Of its more than 4 million articles in English, over 3,800 are featured, meaning they have undergone a peer-review process and are considered well-written, comprehensive, well-sourced, neutral, and stable.”

Professor Xiao drew up a survey to investigate academic researchers’ knowledge and perceptions of both open access journals and Wikipedia, which was administered online from October 2011 to April 2012. The sample included 65 men and 49 women, with six respondents choosing to not disclose their gender.

“Our results showed that the respondents’ experiences with Wikipedia are limited and gender is a factor,” she says. “Specifically, male researchers are more likely to have edited as a registered user, and have written an article on Wikipedia”, which is consistent with a recognised Wikipedia “gender gap”, she writes.

“The respondents acknowledged the benefit of publishing in Wikipedia being a larger user base, but they are mainly concerned about the qualification of a Wikipedia user as a reviewer [and] the conflict between original research and current Wikipedia policy.”

Three-quarters of respondents said that they “did not feel comfortable having other researchers edit their paper-in-progress”, even if the researchers were in the same community, she reveals.

“Major disadvantages of Wikipedia in comparison to open-access journals included questionable stability, absence of integration with libraries and scholarly search engines, lower quality, less credibility, less academic acceptance, and less impact on academia,” Professor Xiao adds. Just 3 per cent of respondents did not think there were any disadvantages.

However, despite this, the research suggested that a lack of experience with Wikipedia negatively affected researchers’ perceptions, and that the academic community’s perception would become “more positive with more active involvement in Wikipedia”.

The respondents also acknowledged some “major advantages” of using Wikipedia over open access journals, including cost reductions, timely review, post-publication corrections, and making articles available before validation. “However, 26% of respondents did not see any advantage,” Professor Xiao says.

The article, “Academic opinions of Wikipedia and open-access publishing”, is published online at Emerald Insight.

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