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Bridging the Journal-Wikipedia gap

In March 2012, PLoS Computational Biology took what we hope will be a first step in a new level of interaction between publishers, researchers and the public. “Topic Pages” are a new article type, written in the style of a Wikipedia article. The page, which should fill a gap in Wikipedia’s computational biology content, is peer reviewed. Once accepted, a version of record is published in PLoS Computational Biology, with the text being uploaded to Wikipedia very soon afterwards to undergo the usual updates and edits of articles on the site. In the following guest post, our Topic Pages Editor, Daniel Mietchen, explains the motivations and hopes for this experiment.

PLoS Computational Biology Meets Wikipedia | Topic Pages

Guest post by Daniel Mietchen, the PLoS Computational Biology technical editor for Topic Pages. As Wikimedian in Residence on Open Science, he helped to define the workflow for Topic Page article submission and peer review.

On Tuesday morning, the English Wikipedia’s main page contained a short statement informing visitors “that the protein Concanavalin A (pictured) cuts itself in two and then reassembles in a circularly permuted order” when cut in half, with the bolded link inviting clicks from those wishing to find out more.

Two proteins that are related by a circular permutation. (Image from Bliven S, Prlić A (2012) Circular Permutation in Proteins. PLoS Comput Biol 8(3): e1002445. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002445)

The clicks led to Circular permutation in proteins, an article that describes circular permutation in proteins as

“a type of relationship between proteins, whereby the proteins have a changed order of amino acids in their protein sequence, such that the sequence of the first portion of one protein (adjacent to the N-terminus) is related to that of the second portion of the other protein (near its C-terminus), and vice versa.”

Subjecting the quote to a Google search reveals that there is an article in PLoS Computational Biology that is also entitled Circular Permutation in Proteins, in which the concept is defined in exactly the same way.

Rather than a bug, this striking similarity between the Wikipedia and journal articles is a feature, reflecting the new manuscript track of Topic Pages at PLoS Computational Biology. As explained in an accompanying editorial (whose title has been circularly permuted to yield the title of this blog post), “Topic Pages are the version of record of a page to be posted to (the English version of) Wikipedia.”

In other words, Topic Pages expand on earlier attempts to add a dynamic component to scholarly publishing. They provide the English Wikipedia with expert-written and expert-reviewed content, and allow authors to get credit for their work.

Like the phrase quoted above, the paper contains direct links to Wikipedia pages for background, which dramatically reduces the need to rehash what is already known, while still allowing for a minimum of context.

The reviews that have been produced as a result of the journal’s peer review process have since been posted to the talk page of the Wikipedia entry (along with some further procedural explanations) and as comments to the paper itself.

While the workflow for the initial Topic Page at PLoS Computational Biology was a work-in-progress (as described by both authors), we anticipate considerable streamlining of the workflows for future ones.

Other journals wishing to experiment with wiki contributions are invited to use the dedicated Topic Pages wiki for preparing articles in their respective manuscript track. To further stimulate such experiments, Wikimedia Germany has approved funds to help other journals integrate their workflows with those of Wikimedia projects.

We hope that such a shared experimental environment and code base can provide fertile ground for publishers to develop best practices and standards on the way towards more dynamic modes of publishing. We acknowledge the help and support we have received from several WikiProjects, most notably those on Computational Biology, Molecular and Cellular Biology, and Open Access.

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