Following my last article that referenced online scholarship in the internet age, I wanted to bring up a very interesting and well-written blog poston Scholarpedia.org by Leo Trottier and Eugene Izhikevich, entitled “Wikifying scholarly canons.” Despite the complexity of its analysis of the evolution of peer review, “standardized scholarly communication,” and the rest of the corpus of modern academic research from its Renaissance and Enlightenment beginnings in the work of Francis Bacon and Robert Boyle, it boils down to one simple question: Why aren’t academics now publishing their research through wikis?
As representatives of Scholarpedia.org, one of the contenders for an international standardized research wiki, Trottier and Izhikevich naturally have an incentive to argue for it and that: “It is … in a scholar’s self-interest to … use Scholarpedia as a venue for publishing reviews.” Yet, the merit of the idea should be obvious. “The scholarly article and monograph have continued to serve as the basic units of contribution, persisting even as science has professionalized and media turned electronic,” the authors point out. “The cultural institutions of scholarly articles and monographs themselves have stood the test of time.”
Yet current levels of production in academic research cry out for the kind of reach, accessibility, and real-time review capabilities that a wiki could provide. “As of 2012 more than 1.5 million refereed articles are published yearly, and since most journals have impact factors of 1.0 or less, the majority of articles published today will, within two years, have been cited at most once,” the authors add. The solution that inspired Scholarpedia.org and similar platforms is to create “a central scholarly encyclopedia” subject to peer review, scrupulous curation, and academic standards of proof and credibility.
Whether such an institution, with its echoes of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation, ever comes into being is another question. As the authors say, “the greatest concern related to the development of an online wiki-style scholarly encyclopedia is who has authority — a concern that, fortunately, has already been successfully addressed in the development of printed encyclopedias.” Unfortunately, that concern has been addressed only for separate encyclopedias, rather than a single universal encyclopedia. But as academia evolves, a wiki-style solution to its growth challenges seems likely, even inevitable.