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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Journal requires peer-reviewed Wikipedia entry to publish

By John Timmer

It's easy to find the latest in scientific publications by going to a search engine, such as PubMed, that specializes in the relevant literature. But, if you're looking for something else—unpublished data, relevant software, a comprehensive database—you're likely to turn to a general search engine. These, more often than not, will return a Wikipedia page within the top 10 hits. In increasing numbers, scientists are reasoning that, if people are going to look at the Wikipedia page anyway, the scientific community should probably ensure that the information there is good. In the latest manifestation of this trend, the journal RNA Biology is requiring that authors of a specific type of paper submit a Wikipedia entry for peer review, as well.

This isn't the first effort involved in trying to improve the quality and breadth of biological information available through Wikipedia, but it appears to be the first time that entries in the online encyclopedia are being made a precondition of the research career's be-all and end-all: peer-reviewed publications.

RNA biology is a young journal, having published its first edition in 2004. Its focus is pretty broad—RNA does everything from arranging the production of proteins using DNA as an information source to controlling the silencing of entire chromosomes; there's a strong consensus that the origin of life proceeded through an RNA world stage. Although RNA is a big topic, RNA biology appears to be a small, specialist journal; a hint of its impact can be inferred from the fact that the journal chose to announce its new policy through a new story hosted at Nature.

Nevertheless, the journal appears to have a progressive open access policy; it will handle getting the papers it publishes into the appropriate repositories a year after publication, and authors can pay a reasonable fee ($750, $500 for those from institutions with a subscription) to make their papers open access immediately upon publication.

The new policy is being coordinated with the Wellcome Trust's Sanger Institute, which hosts a genome sequencing center and a number of bioinformatics initiatives. One of the editors of RNA biology is located at Sanger, which also hosts the RFAM RNA family database.

The goal behind the effort is to link publications with public contributions. RNA Biology is creating a new class of publications that focus on a thorough description of a family of RNA molecules, where family is defined by common sequence and function. The publication will result in an update of the RFAM database, and the authors will be required to provide a Wikipedia entry with their paper. That entry will be peer reviewed along with the manuscript, which will ideally help ensure that people looking for a quick overview of the RNA family will have easy access to decent information.

The first examples of this program in action are already online. The journal is hosting an open access paper that describes a family of RNA molecules found in nematode worms; a corresponding Wikipedia page is already in place. In good Wikipedia form, the phylogenetic analysis of these RNAs is dinged for not providing citations, while the article as a whole is flagged as having excess jargon. (The talk page hosts an interesting discussion of how much jargon can possibly be eliminated from a highly technical description like this.)

So far, everyone is happy with the results. A few scientists have started updating the scientific content of the RNA entries, while the usual Wikipedia denizens have helped out in terms of catching typos and improving the formatting. The people backing the project expect that it will be immune to some of the issues that plague other Wikipedia entries; Nature quotes one of the biologists as saying, ""We don't think vandalism will ever be as much of a problem for a Wikipedia page on transfer RNAs as it is for a page on George Bush."

Original here

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