Scientific Journal to Require Wikipedia Summary Page of New Research Articles

December 18, 2008

From Nature News comes this announcement:

Wikipedia, meet RNA. Anyone submitting to a section of the journal RNA Biology [link added] 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.

It's unclear how this new initiative will work in practice. The only thing the RNA Biology site has to say on the subject is to offer a link back to the Nature News article.

This is a trend to watch very closely. A journal article is dead the moment it's published, but a Wikipedia article is a living, breathing document that can adapt as information and interpretations change. Five years from now, which will be more widely-cited - the article published in RNA Biology or its Wikipedia counterpart?

Although I sympathize with their motivation, Open Access proponents are fighting the last war and wasting a lot of valuable time and energy in the process. Modern information technology has given scientists the potential to become independent of scientific publishers altogether; economic factors are starting to give them the motivation.

The old model of scientific publication is showing distinct signs of old age. In this model, a small group of scientists submit an article to a journal, which after limited peer review publishes a static version of it. This model suffers from endemic inefficiencies that undermines it both from an economic and scientific perspective, no matter who pays for those inefficiencies.

A new model of scientific publication is now both technically feasible and much better-adapted to the needs of science. In this new model, the "article" is never "done", gets "published" at a much earlier stage, is at least partially created by automated software and services, and is both authored and reviewed by a much broader range of participants.

How that new model is implemented is anybody's guess. But the move by RNA Biology may be pointing us in the right direction.