Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Wikipedia Wobbly on Controversial Science Topics

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Wikipedia Wobbly on Controversial Science Topics

Article excerpt

Wikipedia reigns. It's the world's most popular online encyclopedia, the sixth most-visited website in America, and a research source that most U.S. students rely on. But, according to a paper published in the journal PLOS ONE, Wikipedia entries on politically controversial scientific topics can be unreliable due to information sabotage.

Co-author Gene Likens, who co-discovered acid rain in North America and counts among his accolades a National Medal of Science, has monitored Wikipedia's acid rain entry since 2003.

Likens explains: "In the scientific community, acid rain is not a controversial topic. Its mechanics have been well understood for decades. Yet, despite having 'semi-protected' status to prevent anonymous changes, Wikipedia's acid rain entry receives near-daily edits, some of which result in egregious errors and a distortion of consensus science."

To see how Wikipedia's acid rain entry compared to other scientific topics, Likens partnered with Adam Wilson, a geographer at the University of Buffalo, to analyze Wikipedia edit histories for three politically controversial scientific topics (acid rain, evolution, and global warming), and four non-controversial scientific topics (the standard model in physics, heliocentrism, general relativity, and continental drift).

Using nearly a decade of data, Likens and Wilson teased out daily edit rates, the mean size of edits (words added, deleted, or edited), and the mean number of page views per day. While the edit rate of the acid rain article was less than the edit rate of the evolution and global warming articles, it was significantly higher than the non-controversial topics. Across the board, politically controversial scientific topics were edited more heavily and viewed more often. …

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