Assume you have submitted a paper for the Bulletin of the History of Medicine or Museums & Society or some other fine humanities journal. Then imagine the editors write back to you saying that the anonymous reviewers just loved it and that the journal will accept it for publication in a forthcoming issue — on the condition that you also submit a Wikipedia page that summarizes your paper!

Sounds to me like a great vision for the future of public engagement with the humanities. And not at all unrealistic, because a precedent has already been set — by a science journal.

From now on, RNA Biology will require Wikipedia pages from all authors who submit their work to a new journal section that describes RNA molecule families. The journal will then send the pages for peer review before publishing them in Wikipedia (see Declan Butler, “Publish in Wikipedia or perish”, Nature News, 16 Dec. 2008).

The initiative is a collaboration between RNA Biology and the RNA family database (Rfam) consortium led by the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. According to the co-director of the Rfam database “the novelty is that for the first time it creates a link between Wikipedia and traditional journal publishing, with its peer-review element” — which he believes will boost the quality of the scientific content on Wikipedia (quoted in Butler’s piece).

It’s symptomatic that this initiative is taken by a science journal. Wikipedia has quickly been adopted by scientists of all categories, while humanities and social science scholars are so far more reluctant. Hopefully this will change soon. I bet at least one humanities journal will adopt a similar policy before the end of 2009.

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