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Understanding Sustainable Agriculture Through Wikipedia

Wednesday, December 24th, 2014

By John Cummings, Wikimedia volunteer

Wikimedia volunteer John Cummings has worked to make available on Wikipedia 2400 images of tropic agriculture research from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and 4000 new images of vegan food, all the images were originally posted on Flickr by people who share their content under a Creative Commons license.

“I want to give people a greater understanding of agriculture’s impact on the environment and of alternative diets that have a much smaller environmental footprint.”

Understanding the impacts of agriculture

The Priority Products and Materials: Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production report by the United Nations Environment Programme found that “Impacts from agriculture are expected to increase substantially due to population growth increasing consumption of animal products. Unlike fossil fuels, it is difficult to look for alternatives: people have to eat. A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products.”

“Animal products cause more damage than [producing] construction minerals such as sand or cement, plastics or metals. Biomass and crops for animals are as damaging as [burning] fossil fuels.”

Edgar Hertwich, lead author of the report


Greenhouse gas emissions

A Worldwatch Institute study found that 51% of greenhouse gas emissions were produced by the livestock industry, more than the combined impact of industry and energy. Each year 58 billion animals are killed for food, the impacts of a diet that includes animal products will increase as the population grows, the UN predicts the world population will grow to 9.1 billion people by 2050

Species loss

New research by scientists at the Worldwide Fund for Nature and the Zoological Society of London shows that populations of terrestrial, freshwater and marine species have decreased by 50% since 1970. The study identifies food production as a major cause.

“We have missed the ultimate indicator, the falling trend of species and ecosystems in the world, if we get [our response] right, we will have a safe and sustainable way of life for the future,”.

Professor Jonathan Baillie, Director of Conservation, Zoological Society of London

The rate of species extinction is 1,000 to 10,000 higher than the natural state and the recent Global Biodiversity Outlook 4 shows “The average risk of extinction for birds, mammals, amphibians and corals shows no sign of decreasing.”

All images are available on Wikimedia Commons under the categories Vegan food and International Center for Tropical Agriculture.

English Heritage and the Archaeological Data Service: What does it mean to Wikipedia?

Friday, December 12th, 2014

In October, English Heritage made 84 of their publications freely available online through the Archaeological Data Service. The ADS has been running since 1996 and it brings together a huge amount of information from archaeologists in the UK. Amongst the gems on the site you can find copies of unpublished fieldwork reports (known as grey literature) and copies of journals such as the Proceedings of the Antiquarian Society of Scotland. These resources are freely available online. The release of the monographs by English Heritage adds to the rich tapestry of information already available.

Digitisation is not universal. Many archaeological societies would like to digitise their publications, particularly those which are out of copyright, but time and money can be difficult to come by. But progress is being made, and the ADS is a valuable resource to researchers.

The release was so popular the ADS server struggled to keep up with the demand.

But what does this mean for Wikipedia? These books aren’t just reliable sources, they are written by some leading archaeologists, the likes of Philip Barker, Francis Pryor, and Timothy Darvill. In many cases, these are the definitive works on a particular subject. The 1990 survey and history of Carlisle Castle should be the starting place for anyone looking for detailed information on the site. The account of the excavations at Beeston Castle are the most detailed available.

The breadth and depth of these books is tremendous, and cover prehistory right up to the 20th century. It’s not hard to imagine how they could be used in Wikipedia. The pages on Acton Court (224 words) and Camber Castle (265 words) are both very short, yet have entire books written about them. Battle Abbey (686 words), Wroxeter Roman city (698 words), and Bodmin Moor (1,037 words) could be a lot more detailed and during November was read more than 1,000 times. Even sites as well known as Hadrian’s Wall which have lengthy articles could benefit from the quality of information available.

Wikipedia has an important role to play, not just in helping people discover this information but in accommodating a general audience. These monographs are often technical, and Wikipedia can be an easily accessible bridge. By using these sources to improve Wikipedia, editors are also helping English Heritage and ADS spread this information and making it more accessible.

Work has already begun: an IP has visited many of the relevant articles and added the publication available through ADS and English Heritage as a source, but there’s plenty still to do. So browse through the list and see if something catches your eye. Maybe you can be the one to make a difference to the reader.

Who writes Wikipedia’s health and medical pages and why?

Friday, December 5th, 2014

By Nuša Farič, UCL, Centre for Health Informatics & Multiprofessional Education (CHIME)

Half of the editors working on Wikipedia’s 25,000 pages of medical content are qualified medics or other healthcare professionals, providing reassurance about the reliability of the website, according to our newly published research results. Those editors, who are contributing their time for free, are motivated by a belief in the value of Wikipedia, a sense of responsibility to help provide good quality health information, and because they find editing Wikipedia supports their own learning.

Wikipedia is known to be a go-to place for healthcare information for both professionals and the lay public. The first question everyone asks is: but how reliable is it? In a new study, just published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, we took a different approach. We wanted to know more about the people behind the medical pages on Wikipedia, what background do they come from, whether they have specific interests in health and what drives them to contribute to Wikipedia. Because getting health-related content on Wikipedia right is about more than getting the facts correct. It’s about how the information is presented, how topics are covered and what perspectives taken. You can read the paper here.

I’m at the beginning of my research career and I’m very proud that my first published paper is on Wikipedia and Wikipedians. I did this study over 8 months as part of my Master’s course in Health Psychology at UCL. The project was with Dr Henry Potts, a senior lecturer at UCL’s Institute of Health Informatics, who is also a long-time Wikipedian as User:Bondegezou.


In the study, we randomly selected a set of health-related articles on Wikipedia and invited people contributing to those pages to complete a questionnaire and a follow-up interview. We received 32 replies from 11 different countries, namely the UK, USA, Canada, the Netherlands, Sweden, China, South Africa, Australia, Malaysia and Colombia. In that snapshot of time (July-September 2012) the editors of health-related articles were predominantly men (31 out of 32), ranging in age from 12 to 59 years. 21 spoke more than one language.

Reassuringly, 15 were working in a health-related field, which included general medicine, cancer research, health psychology, health education, internal medicine, health advertising, regulatory affairs, pharmaceutical drug discovery, microbiology and medical publishing. The other half of the sample included individuals with particular health interests and students, including medical students.

72% of the sample were long-term contributors with 8 having contributed between 3-5 years, 10 between 5-8 years and 5 over 8 years. 90% contributed to other non-medical Wikipedia pages spanning architecture, astronomy, mythology, languages, history and art.

People edited health-related content on Wikipedia because they wanted to help improve content; they find that editing Wikipedia is a good way to learn about the topics themselves; they feel a sense of responsibility – often a professional responsibility – to ensure accuracy and reliability of health information for the public; they enjoy editing Wikipedia; they think highly of the value of Wikipedia. This process of inter-related value systems which drives contributing behavior is graphically depicted in our motivational model of contribution. This could be seen as Wikipedians internalising the principles of Wikipedia, the site’s Five Pillars, and that’s a key part of the social contract that makes the site work. Maybe there is a link between the idealism of many Wikipedians and the idealism of many in healthcare.

Even though we randomly selected health articles, we encountered the same editor accounts over and over. It became apparent that the core editor community number is small: it currently consists of around 300 people. Although this number is still clearly much larger than would normally be brought together to write a medical textbook!

We also observed the egalitarianism of Wikipedia: everyone has equal right to edit content if their claims are verifiable. While the high proportion of healthcare professionals provides reassurance about the accuracy of content, Wikipedia is a place of verifiability and not authority. Contributions from those who are not healthcare professionals are important too. Wikipedia’s focus on what is said rather than who is saying it has parallels with the peer review process that journal papers go through, a system that is often anonymous. Likewise, the evidence-based medicine movement, that has become dominant in healthcare, has worked hard to put research evidence above expert opinion.

Current state and the future

Plenty of doctors and patients are still wary of Wikipedia’s use in healthcare, but other research has shown that Wikipedia is extensively used by patients, by medical students, by doctors and by health researchers. We would like to see more of those using Wikipedia becoming editors and there are several recent initiatives in that area. The more people are editing, the better Wikipedia gets… although we also have to help new contributors get used to Wikipedia’s rules. That balance, between increasing participation, improving reliability and maintaining the community, is a challenge for health-related editors as it is for Wikipedia in general.

Healthcare research has already seen a big shift to open access publications, journals that are free to read, so researchers and health practitioners are becoming open to the principles of Wikipedia. I believe strongly that everyone in the world deserves access to high quality healthcare information in the language of their choice. Wikipedia is the only viable method to achieve this goal.

nfaric{at}gmail.com (User:Hydra Rain)

What does Fraser Hobday tell us about notability on Wikipedia?

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014
The photo shows a football goalkeeper catching a ball during a game

Fraser Hobday in action

There has been an interesting story circulating on the internet this week about a young Scottish amateur footballer, Fraser Hobday, who had a longer Wikipedia article than Brazilian World Cup star Neymar. The article has since been nominated for deletion by the Wikipedia community and this case raises some interesting questions.

How do you decide what goes into an encyclopedia? It’s a tricky question and one Wikipedia and its millions of editors have debated since the site was created in 2001. What they settled on was the concept that to be included, a topic had to be ‘notable’. In short, a subject needs to “have gained sufficiently significant attention by the world at large and over a period of time”.

In many cases ‘notability’ is clear cut. Leaders of countries should obviously be included in an encyclopedia and will have innumerable people writing about them. The chances are your next door neighbour doesn’t have this kind of coverage. What happens when opinions differ on a subject’s ‘notability’? A discussion is opened, and Wikipedia’s writers voice their opinions.

We hope that by teaching people how to edit we can lessen the cases in which new editors find their articles deleted. Sometimes articles which should be included are deleted because an inexperienced editor is not fully aware of how ‘notability’ is measured. What Wikipedia looks for is independent third-party sources. Newspaper articles and books are great examples.

By and large, the people who fall foul of the ‘notability’ guideline are newer, less experienced editors. They may spend a great deal of time and effort crafting their article only to see it deleted. No matter how valid the reasons, and how understanding the people discussing the article are, feelings can get hurt. This is especially true when people are writing about people, especially as sometimes people end up writing about themselves. If you write about yourself or someone you know – though Wikipedia actively discourages this – it can feel insulting to be told that you are not notable. It is important to keep in mind that the discussions are not about the value or worth of a person, or whether they ‘deserve’ an article, but whether it’s the kind of thing which belongs in an encyclopedia.

A lot of people learn what goes into Wikipedia through trial and error. Wikimedia UK is a UK registered charity, and one of its branches of activity is training people how to edit. In part this involves the how-to aspect of these are the buttons you press to make changes. That’s the easy part. The more nuanced aspect is helping people understand what goes into an article, and what articles go into Wikipedia!

Wikipedia is the encyclopedia that anyone can edit, but it helps to have someone friendly and knowledgeable on hand. If you’re interested in editing but haven’t taken the plunge yet, why not take a look at the charity’s event page and see what’s going on in your area?

And what of Fraser Hobday? There is a specific notability guideline for footballers – to be considered notable they must have played or managed in a strictly professional league, or played or managed a senior international. We hope that one day Fraser’s career will reach that point and his article can be reinstated. We wish him the very best of luck.

Using Wikipedia to open up science

Friday, October 24th, 2014
The image is a series of drawings showing various parts of a newly discovered animal species

A description of a new species of Brazilian Paraportanus, uploaded by Open Access Media Importer

This post was written by Dr Martin Poulter, Wikimedia UK volunteer and Wikipedian

As part of Open Access Week, I’d like to explore some overlaps between Open Access and what we do in Wikimedia, and end with an announcement that I’m very excited about.

We who write Wikipedia do not expect readers to believe something just because Wikipedia says so. We cite our sources and hope that readers will follow the links and check for themselves. This is a kind of continuous quality control: if readers verify Wikipedia’s sources, then bias and misrepresentation will be winnowed out. However, we do not yet live in that ideal world. A huge amount of research is still hidden behind “paywalls” that charge startlingly high amounts per paper.

Here in the UK, a lot of progress is being made in opening up research, thanks to the policies of major funding bodies including Research Councils UK and the Higher Education Funding Council for England. This is a difficult cultural change for many researchers, but Wikipedia and its sister sites show that a totally open-access publishing system can work. These sites also provide platforms that give that greatest exposure and reuse for open access materials.

Open Access in the Broadest Sense

There is much more to open access than being able to read papers without paying. The OA agenda is about getting the full benefits of research, removing technical or legal barriers that restrict progress. You may sometimes hear about “Budapest” OA, referring to the 2002 declaration of the Budapest Open Access Initiative which said that open access would “accelerate research, enrich education, share the learning of the rich with the poor and the poor with the rich, make this literature as useful as it can be, and lay the foundation for uniting humanity in a common intellectual conversation and quest for knowledge.”


Castles in the digital age

Friday, August 29th, 2014

Clem Rutter’s photo of Rochester Castle (worth clicking to view larger)

When you spend time on one of the busiest websites in the world it’s amazing what patterns emerge.

A few weeks ago I was leafing through a borrowed copy of The Historian. It had been passed on to me because there was a piece about castles. As I leafed through its immaculately presented pages I was stopped by an eerily familiar photo. There was Rochester Castle on a beautiful sunny day, a sky blue backdrop, and the medieval cathedral peeking out behind.

That stopping power was important. For me at least, a good photograph makes me want to learn more, especially on Wikipedia where a plethora of links can drag you into a maze full of interesting twists and turns.

I knew where that snapshot came from. It was unmistakably the main photo on the Wikipedia article about the castle. I was also lucky enough to have met the man responsible for it. The photographer is Clem Rutter who has more than a decade’s experience of writing for Wikipedia, and apparently a decent photographer to boot.

It was an exciting moment of recognition, mixed with a bit of pride that The Historian was happy to use the picture. I decided to send Clem the magazine so he could see how good it looked in print, where it illustrated a piece by a professor of history. But this blog isn’t about the magazine. I want to say thank you Clem for taking that photo.

I hope you admire the picture as much as I do.

Have you been inspired to emulate Clem? Wiki Loves Monuments 2014 starts on 1 September, but you can take pictures in advance so go out and get snapping!

Free information, the internet and medicine

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

The image shows a small leaflet outlining the work of WikiProject: Medicine

This post was written by Vinesh Patel, a junior doctor and an alumnus of Imperial College, London

A new adventure for Wikimedia UK began this summer with a project in collaboration with Imperial College School of Medicine.

In a recent BBC article, Wikimedia UK highlighted the need for everyone looking for medical information to remember Wikipedia is simply an online encyclopedia, and nothing more.

A ganglion is a type of benign fluid collection that can form from fluid around tendons on your hand and some people used to claim it could be cured with a well judged thump with a Bible. However, evidence doesn’t support this practice. An encyclopedia with a similarly hard book covering would be judged by most laypeople today to be about as useful in solving such medical problems, and they would probably just see their doctor about a lump on their hand.Yet there seems to be a great tangle when the same information is put in an online encyclopaedia.

It is this tangle that is being explored by 3 groups of medical students, as they seek to edit selected Wikipedia articles within the field of medicine. 10 of them from different year groups are collaborating with senior academics to edit academic field they find interesting.

The format is they select a B or C class article from Wikiproject medicine and look to develop it over several months. They collaborate over several months to edit an article offline and then transcribe their work on to a WP page, having given notice they are going to conduct the edit on Wikipedia. One individual puts their work online after they . They receive help and guidance from senior academics. After putting their edits on WP they work with editors around the world to improve the article through normal routes of discussion on the talk page. The project is running from

The primary aim is to allow the students to develop their academic skills, but it is also hoped that the question of how free information on the internet is used in medicine will be given some practical answers. In future the program may be expanded to allow students to collaborate with students in developing countries. In fact, many students said the most inspiring aspect of the project is the potential to spread free medical information to their less privileged colleagues around the world, harnessing the possibilities of the internet.

The personal touch

Friday, June 27th, 2014
The image shows the Wikipedia puzzle globe logo

The iconic Wikipedia globe

This post was written by Jon Davies, Wikimedia UK’s Chief Executive

I thought I’d share this with you:

‘Dear Jon

Thank you for the opportunity to attend the xxxxxx. It was a privilege to meet such an interesting group of people and hear about the laudable ambitions and achievements of the Wikimedia organisation.

You inspired me to try editing a Wikipedia page; so today I have joined the rank of wiki-editors and updated the page about my village. And yes it was just as easy as you described.

I’ll certainly be spreading the word and encouraging other people to do likewise.

Kind regards


All I did was explain to this well educated middle aged woman a) how everyone had something to contribute; b) how women were not properly represented and;  c) how to press the ‘edit’ button. I have asked her which page she edited and hope her edit has been welcomed.

A model for digital democracy

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014
A photo of the UK's Palace of Westminster seen from across the River Thames at dusk

The Palace of Westminster, home to Parliament

This post was written by Stevie Benton, Wikimedia UK’s head of external relations, was originally published on the Demos blog here

A sense that all citizens of a state have a stake, and a say, in the process of government is in some ways crucial to our sense of identity as citizens. It is something that history suggests we as a nation are both proud and protective of. People fought and died for the rights and responsibilities offered by democracy.

But there is something of a disconnect between the democratic process as it exists and the levels of public engagement with that process that democracy demands in order to be truly representative. There is more to a fully functional, healthy democracy than placing an X in a box on election day.

If the latest from the Hansard Society is any measure, democracy in the UK is in trouble. However, for quite some time there has been an expectation that the internet would welcome a new era of mass participation in the democratic process. Digital democracy is an idea which has been widely discussed, but successful implementation on any large scale remains elusive.

Some international initiatives have proved to be worthwhile, particularly when it comes to politicians and governments increasing their openness and transparency: one example being the Open Government Partnership. The challenge is finding ways to engage with large numbers of citizens in a meaningful way which gives them real power and influence over policy and legislation away from the ballot box.

This is where the wiki model can lend a hand. Wikipedia is the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit. In just over 13 years it has grown exponentially and now boasts over 4.5 million articles in English, and more than 31 million articles in total across more than 280 languages. Behind the articles there is a vast community of people who write and edit content, share openly licensed images and – the area that’s most interesting in this context – write and enact policy.

Carl Miller, Research Director of The Centre for the Analysis of Social Media (CASM) at Demos, contacted Wikimedia UK to draw our attention to a recent call for evidence from the Speaker of the House of Commons relating to digital democracy, which the Speaker himself discussed at an event last night.

We wondered if the community-driven ethos of Wikipedia could be replicated in a way that could make a meaningful contribution to the digital democracy landscape. (By the way, if you have an interest in this topic then Carl’s recent piece for Wired is a must-read.)

Wikipedia is by no means a democracy. It is not driven by a concept of the most popular idea, or the most popular position, being accepted, either as content or as policy. Rather, it is a consensus-driven process which is open to all. It is rare for either a Wikipedia article, or a Wikipedia policy, to truly be finished. The idea is that all contributions build on those that came before.

Demos and Wikimedia UK want to see if this open, consensus-driven process can work when applied to digital democracy. We have now jointly embarked on an ongoing attempt to take the collective know-how and experience of Wikipedia editors – Wikipedians – and attempt to crowdsource a submission to the Speaker’s call for evidence.

While I’m unsure if this has been tried before, early indications are that this can work. At the time of writing there have been more than 50 edits made to the page and its linked talk page. The call is open for anyone who would like to get involved, and I’d encourage you to do so. Simply follow this link, click the edit button and edit the copy. You can also view, and participate in, the discussion which is helping to shape the evidence, which is here.

What I find personally exciting about this is that neither Wikimedia UK nor Demos know what the finished evidence will look like. Neither organisation is trying to influence the course of the evidence, beyond encouraging as wide a body of participation as possible. It will reflect the collective, distilled wisdom of the crowd – which to me, is the essence of democracy.

Wikimedia UK microgrant leads to Wikipedia featured article

Thursday, May 8th, 2014
Image shows a black and white lithograph of a coastal scene

A lithograph of the Cornish coast

At the beginning of 2013, User:WormThatTurned applied for a Wikimedia UK microgrant for resources to improve a host of articles related to the Cornish coast. One of those articles, about Doom Bar, is now a featured article on Wikipedia and one the best on the encyclopaedia. He wrote this piece about his grant application last year.

One afternoon in February 2009, I was sitting in a pub with some friends and drinking Doom Bar, a beer I had started drinking ten years earlier because I found the name amusing. I’d been editing Wikipedia for a little while, but nothing big. Idly, I glanced at the back of the beer mat, which said “Where the River Camel meets the Atlantic on Cornwall’s ocean scarred North Coast, a bank of sand, centuries old, known as the Doom Bar protects and calms this beautiful estuary. Legend links the birth of the Doom Bar to the final curse of a dying mermaid who had rejected a sailor’s love only to be shot with an arrow from the spurned sailor’s bow.” It was just the inspiration I needed, and I was writing the article within a week.

One book I found as I was taking the article to good status was Brian French’s ‘Wrecks & Rescues Around Padstow’s Doom Bar’, in the local library. There were also many smaller books on the topic. I gleaned some information from them, wrote it all up and forgot all about them. Fast forward three years and I got it into my head that I’d love to see Doom Bar as a featured article. As part of this, I wanted to go back over French’s book, but struggled getting hold of it as it was out of print and produced by a local publisher at the other end of the country.

I thought I’d give a microgrant a go, to see if it was something that WMUK could help out with. The process was simple, just a few questions which I could answer without hesitation and a link to the book I was after on Amazon. It was approved before the day was over and after a quick email to the office, I received the book.

It’s helped me immensely, reminding me how interesting the topic is and how much information there is out there on paper. I’ve always found it difficult to come back to an article once my passion has waned, so I really appreciate the boost that WMUK has given to me.

To read the microgrant application see here – if you would like to apply yourself to support editing or outreach then read more here

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