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OA, blogs and Wikipedia

There have been a couple of interesting articles about the interaction of user created content with the scientific literature. Both point out the greater utility of Open Access publishing for such endeavours.

The first of these is an entry by Pedro Beltrão on the Public Rambling blog. He has looked at the copyright regulations that might apply when using figures and quotations from scientific articles in blogs. He has done a really nice job of summarising the restrictions different publishers apply, which will be useful not only to bloggers but to anyone else wondering whether they can reuse figures. Bloggers probably don’t have to worry too much about this – as Pedro says “what publisher in their right mind would even try to sue a poor blogger when there might be a case for fair use” – but other reusers are not so fortunate.

As an aside on the reuse of figures we were pleased this week to see a paper from PLoS Medicine, “Natural Ventilation for the Prevention of Airborne Contagion”, being featured in (among other places) the BMJ’s “Shortcuts from other journals” section. They even reproduce a figure from the paper, which they are at complete liberty to do. Problem is they also provide a ready made PowerPoint slide of this figure with “copyright BMJ” on it and their own citation; as the paper was originally published under a Creative Commons licence it clearly isn’t. Hopefully the BMJ will rectify this though you won’t be able to check as this is a subscription only item.

The other thing that I wanted to tell you about is an article by John Willinsky in this month’s First Monday called “What open access research can do for Wikipedia”. It is an investigation into the amount of primary literature citation that occurs in Wikipedia and how much of that is to Open Access sources.

I don’t know that there is a simple take home message to sum up this investigation. There is clearly common cause between Wikipedia and OA science publishing, what Willinsky calls “the human right to know what is known”. This is a call to arms to encourage Wikipedia contributors to use the OA literature as much as possible and provides a handy guide for doing so in an appendix: “Citing Open Access Research and Scholarship in Wikipedia”.

With PLoS ONE this needn’t be a one way street. Not only am I keen to see PLoS ONE articles cited in Wikipedia but also links to Wikipedia appearing as annotations on PLoS ONE paper to help explain difficult concepts. This has happened a little already, I hope it will happen a lot.

Discussion
  1. The wikipedia pages on subjects like mental disorders, fibromyalgia, or anything that is medically mysterious, are absolutely terrible. I don’t know why you would recommend wikipedia.

  2. The beauty of wikipedia is if you feel entries to be lacking, you can easily add your expertise. Citing open access research can only enhance the information and allow readers to draw the best conclusion.

  3. Catherine is partly true but an ‘open access’ entry has its inherent disadvantage of quality control of its content. Diversity in view is enriching but to control quality in such situations needs a greater amount of resources.

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