Wikipedia, the world's largest online encyclopaedia, is regarded with suspicion by some in the scientific community — perhaps because the wiki model is inconsistent with traditional academic scholarship (Nature 468, 359–360; 2010). But the time has come for scientists to engage more actively with Wikipedia.

Type any scientific term into any search engine and it is likely that a Wikipedia article will be the first hit. Ten years ago, it would have been inconceivable that a free collaborative website, written and maintained by volunteers, would dominate the global provision of knowledge. But Wikipedia is now the first port of call for people seeking information on subjects that include scientific topics. Like it or not, other scientists and the public are using it to get an overview of your specialist area.

Wikipedia's user-friendly global reach offers an unprecedented opportunity for public engagement with science. Scientists who receive public or charitable funding should therefore seize the opportunity to make sure that Wikipedia articles are understandable, scientifically accurate, well sourced and up-to-date.

Many in the scientific community will admit to using Wikipedia occasionally, yet few have contributed content. For society's sake, scientists must overcome their reluctance to embrace this resource.