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Content Volatility of Scientific Topics in Wikipedia: A Cautionary Tale

Overview of attention for article published in PLoS ONE, August 2015
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About this Attention Score

  • In the top 5% of all research outputs scored by Altmetric
  • High Attention Score compared to outputs of the same age (99th percentile)
  • High Attention Score compared to outputs of the same age and source (99th percentile)

Mentioned by

news
14 news outlets
blogs
11 blogs
twitter
182 tweeters
facebook
6 Facebook pages
googleplus
3 Google+ users
reddit
1 Redditor

Readers on

mendeley
29 Mendeley
citeulike
3 CiteULike
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Title
Content Volatility of Scientific Topics in Wikipedia: A Cautionary Tale
Published in
PLoS ONE, August 2015
DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0134454
Pubmed ID
Authors

Adam M. Wilson, Gene E. Likens

Abstract

Wikipedia has quickly become one of the most frequently accessed encyclopedic references, despite the ease with which content can be changed and the potential for 'edit wars' surrounding controversial topics. Little is known about how this potential for controversy affects the accuracy and stability of information on scientific topics, especially those with associated political controversy. Here we present an analysis of the Wikipedia edit histories for seven scientific articles and show that topics we consider politically but not scientifically "controversial" (such as evolution and global warming) experience more frequent edits with more words changed per day than pages we consider "noncontroversial" (such as the standard model in physics or heliocentrism). For example, over the period we analyzed, the global warming page was edited on average (geometric mean ±SD) 1.9±2.7 times resulting in 110.9±10.3 words changed per day, while the standard model in physics was only edited 0.2±1.4 times resulting in 9.4±5.0 words changed per day. The high rate of change observed in these pages makes it difficult for experts to monitor accuracy and contribute time-consuming corrections, to the possible detriment of scientific accuracy. As our society turns to Wikipedia as a primary source of scientific information, it is vital we read it critically and with the understanding that the content is dynamic and vulnerable to vandalism and other shenanigans.

Twitter Demographics

The data shown below were collected from the profiles of 182 tweeters who shared this research output. Click here to find out more about how the information was compiled.

Mendeley readers

The data shown below were compiled from readership statistics for 29 Mendeley readers of this research output. Click here to see the associated Mendeley record.

Geographical breakdown

Country Count As %
United States 6 21%
Spain 1 3%
Germany 1 3%
United Kingdom 1 3%
Mexico 1 3%
Brazil 1 3%
Ireland 1 3%
Austria 1 3%
Unknown 16 55%

Demographic breakdown

Readers by professional status Count As %
Student > Ph. D. Student 6 21%
Librarian 4 14%
Researcher 3 10%
Professor > Associate Professor 3 10%
Professor 2 7%
Other 11 38%
Readers by discipline Count As %
Agricultural and Biological Sciences 8 28%
Computer Science 5 17%
Social Sciences 5 17%
Earth and Planetary Sciences 2 7%
Psychology 2 7%
Other 7 24%

Attention Score in Context

This research output has an Altmetric Attention Score of 312. This is our high-level measure of the quality and quantity of online attention that it has received. This Attention Score, as well as the ranking and number of research outputs shown below, was calculated when the research output was last mentioned on 20 January 2016.
All research outputs
#17,989
of 8,078,331 outputs
Outputs from PLoS ONE
#486
of 112,451 outputs
Outputs of similar age
#702
of 228,941 outputs
Outputs of similar age from PLoS ONE
#26
of 6,142 outputs
Altmetric has tracked 8,078,331 research outputs across all sources so far. Compared to these this one has done particularly well and is in the 99th percentile: it's in the top 5% of all research outputs ever tracked by Altmetric.
So far Altmetric has tracked 112,451 research outputs from this source. They typically receive a lot more attention than average, with a mean Attention Score of 10.6. This one has done particularly well, scoring higher than 99% of its peers.
Older research outputs will score higher simply because they've had more time to accumulate mentions. To account for age we can compare this Altmetric Attention Score to the 228,941 tracked outputs that were published within six weeks on either side of this one in any source. This one has done particularly well, scoring higher than 99% of its contemporaries.
We're also able to compare this research output to 6,142 others from the same source and published within six weeks on either side of this one. This one has done particularly well, scoring higher than 99% of its contemporaries.