Published online 16 December 2008 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news.2008.1312


Publish in Wikipedia or perish

Journal to require authors to post in the free online encyclopaedia.

Wikipedia, meet RNA. Anyone submitting to a section of the journal RNA Biology will, in the future, be required to also submit a Wikipedia page that summarizes the work. The journal will then peer review the page before publishing it in Wikipedia.

The initiative is a collaboration between the journal and the RNA family database (Rfam) consortium led by the TrustSanger_Institute">UK Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Hinxton. "The novelty is that for the first time it creates a link between Wikipedia and traditional journal publishing, with its peer-review element," says Alex Bateman, who co-heads the Rfam database. The aim, Bateman says, is to boost the quality of the scientific content on Wikipedia while using the entries to update the Sanger database.

Share the data

RNA Biology will require Wikipedia pages from all authors who submit work to a new section of the journal, to be launched later this week, that describes families of RNA molecules. The first paper scheduled is "A Survey of Nematode SmY RNAs"1; its corresponding Wikipedia summary can be found here.

The goal is to encourage more scientists who work on RNA to get involved in creating and updating public data on RNA families, while being rewarded by the traditional method of a citation">citable publication, says Sean Eddy, a computational biologist at the Janelia Farm Research Campus of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Ashburn, Virginia, and a co-author of the nematode article.

The Sanger Institute created the Rfam database in 2005, and it now contains data on about 1,200 RNA families from some 200 complete genome sequences. Sanger last year started to experiment with the idea of using Wikipedia to improve the database. It set up an RNA subsection on the encyclopaedia, called RNA WikiProject 2, which has the same entries as those on the Rfam database. The database is synchronized each night with Wikipedia, so that any changes made to the Wikipedia pages are transferred to the corresponding entries in the Rfam database.

Bateman says he has been "pleasantly surprised" by scientists' willingness to edit the RNA Wikipedia pages. Most of the edits are made by a core group of around 15 researchers, but there's a LongTail">long tail of other scientists who pop in sporadically, he says, often to fix or add information about molecules specific to their research.

Wiki love

Editing is not restricted to experts. The experience with RNA WikiProject suggests that vandalism will not be a big problem; if anything, Wikipedians chipped in to fix typos, add links and generally tidy up the entries. "We don't think vandalism will ever be as much of a problem for a Wikipedia page on RNA">transfer RNAs as it is for a page on George Bush," says Eddy.

The RNA wiki is a subset of a broader project, the WikiProject Molecular and Cellular Biology, which has marshalled hundreds of scientists to improve the content of biology articles in Wikipedia. It, in turn, is collaborating with the InstituteoftheNovartisResearchFoundation">Novartis Research Foundation on Wiki">GeneWiki 3, an effort to create Wikipedia articles describing every human gene. Beyond Wikipedia itself, scientists are also increasingly using wiki technology to get scientists to help curate other biological databases (see Nature 455, 22–25; 2008).


Renée Schroeder, the editor of RNA Biology and a biochemist at the University of Vienna, says she hopes that other journals will also take up the idea of submitting peer-reviewed information to Wikipedia. "RNA families are the perfect example to start this exciting experiment," she says. "We will see how the scientific community accepts it." 

  • References

    1. Jones, T. A., Otto, W., Marz, M., Eddya, S. R. & Stadler, P. F. RNA Biol. 6, 1–13 (2009).
    2. Daub, J. et al. RNA 12, 2462–2464 (2008).
    3. Huss, J. W. et al. PLoS Biol. 8, e175 (2008). | Article | ChemPort |
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