By Rob Mitchum // July 7, 2015
For better or worse, Wikipedia is now one of the world’s foremost resources for information on everything from string theory to obscure Star Wars characters. The general public and — even if they won’t admit it — many scholars use Wikipedia as a first-order reference on unfamiliar scientific subjects, before diving more deeply into the primary sources. But doing so places faith in the hands of the Wikipedia community, trusting that a page’s editors have drawn upon the best scientific evidence in summarizing the topic for a more general audience.
A new paper from Knowledge Lab‘s Misha Teplitskiy, Grace Lu, and Eamon Duede examined this question quantitatively, studying how Wikipedias of 50 different languages cite the work of nearly 5,000 scientific journals representing several dozen fields. An article in MIT Technology Review looked at the interesting conclusions from this analysis, including the influence of journal impact factors on probability of Wikipedia citation and the use of open-access versus closed-access journals.
Open access publishing has changed the way scientists communicate with each other but Teplitskiy and buddies have now shown that its influence is much more significant. “Our research suggests that open access policies have a tremendous impact on the diffusion of science to the broader general public through an intermediary like Wikipedia,” says Teplitskiy and co.
That’s something that observers have imagined but without good evidence to back them up. It means that open access publications are dramatically amplifying the way science diffuses through the world and ultimately changing the way we understand the universe around us.