RESOURCES: The People's Encyclopedia

Science  05 Sep 2003:
Vol. 301, Issue 5638, pp. 1299
DOI: 10.1126/science.301.5638.1299c

The do-it-yourself spirit flourishes on the Web, where for the last two-and-a-half years, readers have been writing and editing their own encyclopedia, known as Wikipedia. It now has more than 152,000 articles under way in English, and the project's participants aim to create the world's largest encyclopedia. Wikipedia offers a substantial science section, with biographies of scientists such as the late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, backgrounders on subjects such as relativity and acid-base reactions, and overviews of major disciplines. The articles brim with links to other Wikipedia entries and outside sources.

Anyone can write a Wikipedia entry—if they dare. Instead of undergoing formal peer review by experts, the articles endure the scrutiny of readers, who can edit, correct, and polish the prose. The idea is that multiple contributors will not only improve accuracy and clarity, but also balance clashing viewpoints. Amateurs write many entries, but Wikipedians encourage experts to pitch in and help produce articles that are authoritative but not too technical for a general reader.

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