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Office of Communications & Public Liaison

Guidelines for Participating in Wikipedia from NIH

Wikipedia is an encyclopedia and is the fifth most popular property on the web. At present, there are more than 75,000 active contributors across the globe with hundreds of thousands of volunteers at computers working on more than 13,000,000 articles in more than 260 languages. Recently, the system has become much more sophisticated and "vandals" are handled quickly. But the majority of science articles and good health information are rated by Wikipedia as "incomplete." There is a real opportunity to strengthen this public resource. A biochemistry professor who was part of the NIH Wikipedia Academy workshop in July 2009, noted about the content: "[it is] meant to derive its authority from journal references, scientific literature. . ." We hope these guidelines will help you to become part of a unique opportunity in keeping with the NIH’s history of making credible, vetted, authoritative information available to the public. The time spent can be minimal, but the impact could be great. Information you have already developed that might benefit scientists or the public worldwide could be put up in a few minutes—or one item in a journal club could be an entry (suggested by some NIH scientists) as a shared experience, or if one has permission and is so inclined, an authored article in an area needing new information would require more effort. Many have heard that schools will not permit citation of Wikipedia—completely appropriate—and acknowledged by Wikipedia. They, as with any encyclopedia, would not be a credible citation, however, the growing list of peer-reviewed, published sources used in citation makes it an invaluable tool for getting started or locating original sources.

  1. NIH scientists and health and science writers can contribute to Wikipedia within their own fields. Contributions may be in the form of a range of activities from authoring articles in areas of individual or laboratory expertise, editing for accuracy or improving current entries, or providing—and this is an important contribution—citations.
  2. Remember that Wikipedia makes every effort to be a neutral resource and fact-based. The community is particularly sensitive to self aggrandizing, hype, or policy items. The main page for NIH programs (IC or Office) should go through the appropriate communication officer in your IC or Office.
  3. Time spent on Wikipedia entries must be approved by the immediate supervisor and the time permitted for this outreach activity predetermined before the work is begun. It is recommended that the staff person indicates the areas he/she will contribute to in the time allotted.
  4. In your NIH capacity: NIH staff scientists and science writers and health professionals may only contribute to Wikipedia entries in their own scientific and health areas of expertise from the NIH.
  5. In your personal capacity: To contribute to articles in additional areas of interest, NIH employees should use personal resources, including non-Government home computers and personal internet accounts.
  6. NIH staff may only share information that is in the public domain and contribute factual information not opinion. Nor should staff enter into discussions of policy. That is not appropriate to Wikipedia nor NIH guidelines.
  7. To ensure quality and avoid instances of plagiarism, Wikipedia requires contributors to cite literature or link to existing materials and to provide proper attribution to authors and sources, even if the work is in the public domain. There is constant vigilance by Wikipedians in favor of fact over opinion; inaccurate information is corrected through a series of permissions.
  8. The Wikimedia Foundation has established a switchboard, staffed by volunteers, for NIH editors and contributors. Contributors should use the NIH Switchboard for Wikipedia to ensure that your contributions are welcomed. We will be posting information about contacting the switchboard on line.
  9. Seize opportunities to link to full articles through NIH public access holdings at http://publicaccess.nih.gov/.
  10. These guidelines are designed for communications from NIH. Individuals may, of course, contribute privately to Wikipedia on their own time and own equipment in areas of personal knowledge.
  11. We are using these guidelines as a working document for the NIH community. If you have comments or questions, please contact us at NIHWikipediaComments@mail.nih.gov.
This page last reviewed on March 2, 2011

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