NeuroMat’s web-2.0 dissemination: towards an integrated wiki strategy

Almost simultaneously readers of the scholar journal Scientific Reports and the Portuguese and English editions of the electronic encyclopaedia Wikipedia had access to the same finding: the relationship between predictability and reaction time is sigmoid, not linear. This finding goes in contrast to what is known as Hick’s Law, a theory on the time a person takes to make a decision as a function of the possibilities that this person faces: more specifically, it is traditionally stated that the reaction time increases as a linear function of the log of the number of alternatives. On March 15, 2016, NeuroMat member André Frazão Helene and colleagues published "On Sequence Learning Models: Open-loop Control Not Strictly Guided by Hick’s Law,” on Scientific Reports, that on March 21 led to a full rewriting of the Portuguese Wikipedia entry on "Lei de Hick" and the incorporation of a section on "Exceptions to Hick's Law” on the English Wikipedia, on March 24. Modifications on the encyclopaedia were in strict accordance with findings in the new scholar publication.

The need to improve scientific content on the internet remains blatant, and it has been one of the main lines of action of the Research, Innovation and Dissemination Center for Neuromathematics (RIDC NeuroMat). NeuroMat was established in 2013 at the University of São Paulo (USP) is an interdisciplinary state-of-the-art institute that aims at building a renewed theoretical of neural functioning and that is coordinated by Prof. Antonio Galves, with funding from the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP). Seventy percent of the general public turns to the web to learn more about scientific topics, according to a study by the American net monitor Pew Research Center in 2006. It is expected that this figure has gone upwards. A key reference in searching for science is Wikipedia, often the first source that pops up in search engines.

NeuroMat has had a line of action geared towards improving content on Wikipedia and other web-2.0 platforms since its inception, and it plans to level up its ongoing strategy of web-2.0 dissemination. Web 2.0 refers to online dissemination activities that emphasize user-generated content in a virtual community, in contrast to Web sites where people take up more passive roles, such as content viewers. NeuroMat’s activities pertaining to wiki actions were listed on the Report of Activities 2014-2015 and included: the organization of a NeuroMat edit-a-thon on Neuromathematics in May 2015, the systematic uploading of pictures and movies pertaining to NeuroMat activities on the image repository associated to Wikipedia, the improvement of several entries such as “Classificacão de disparos neuronais”, “Doença de Alzheimer" and “Neuromatemática,” and scientific production on the use of Wikipedia for dissemination.

Wikipedia-related activities have been seen as an impactful means of scientific dissemination. On this line, the Wiki Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization that contributes to fill content gaps in Wikipedia, has launched in 2016 the Year of Science on the encyclopaedia, stimulating students from hundreds of schools and universities in North America to improve content on science in the electronic encyclopaedia and improve scientific literacy through Wikipedia. More on this initiative may be found here.

Though the Wiki Education Foundation has a strict focus on North America, NeuroMat has taken up the role of making a very own Brazilian Year of Science on Wikipedia. It is the sole Brazilian organization that is attached to this initiative. NeuroMat’s goal is to improve content pertaining to research done within the RIDC with a special focus on the Portuguese version of the encyclopaedia and, by doing so, expand literacy on topics pertaining to brain theory.

Interesting assets of disseminating science through Wikipedia include its massive audience and control metrics. Wikipedia ranks amongst the ten most visited websites in the world, attracting an audience that is or might be generally distant from scientific content, especially the youth. Thus, Wikipedia-related dissemination activities are able to put an emphasis on scientific literacy on populations that might lack the most of it. Each contribution on Wikipedia generates a history, that can be followed, to see how Wikipedians deal with new contributions on science and also to check on the impact of entries that were reviewed or created. For instance, before it was edited the entry on "Lei de Hick” was not much more than a stub; it received from February 21 to March 18, a total of 80 visits. After NeuroMat’s scientific-dissemination team’s work, it reached a total of 369 visits in a week. Though impact of this increased readership is not measurable, it might be an evidence that better content might lead to broader audiences.

This piece is part of NeuroMat's Newsletter #26. Read more here

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