Sage Ross, a graduate student and blogger at Yale University’s Program in History of Medicine and Science, has distributed the interesting message below through the H-Sci-Med-Tech-list. Sage’s point is that historians of science (and medicine) would get much out of engaging more with Wikipedia, and that writing Wikipedia-entries could also be used as a teaching tool in history of science (medicine) courses.

A recent investigation by Nature suggests that the reliability of Wikipedia is approx. the same as that of Encyclopedia Britannica. So it may be worthwhile to watch out for interesting entries about history of science (medicine) in Wikipedia in the future. I haven’t written any entries yet — but I may change my mind …

Date: Fri, 3 Feb 2006 23:50:30 -0500
From: Sage Ross >

List members with concerns about or active interest in Wikipedia may be interested in WikiProject History of Science, an effort to organize and improve the history of science, technology and medicine content on
Wikipedia.

A small number of historians of science are already active editors on Wikipedia, but there is much more work to do.

Project page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiProject_History_of_Science

Share your thoughts on the discussion page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia_talk:WikiProject_History_of_Science

As Wikipedia becomes more sophisticated, undergraduates will increasingly rely on it as a starting point (and ideally only a starting point, but often more) for writing papers. So even if you have no desire to contribute to Wikipedia, it pays as an historian to familiarize yourself with it.

At least one historian (T. Mills Kelly) has begun to use Wikipedia as the focus of assignments, having students correct shoddy articles or write new ones. As you might expect, students gained more of an appreciation of the potential pitfalls of using Wikipedia as a source after trying their hands at editing material with which they were familiar. See Kelly’s blog:
http://chnm.gmu.edu/history/faculty/kelly/blogs/edwired/archives/2005/12/whither_wiki.html

I think Wikipedia has the potential to be an extremely effective way to promote our discipline, especially by the creation of many high quality (“Feature” quality) articles, which can be promoted on the main page (and and thus read by thousands of people).

Sincerely,

Sage Ross
Graduate Student
Yale University
Program in History of Medicine and Science

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