CZ:Biology Workgroup/Biology Week/Academic recruitment/Letter

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Subject: Wiki Encyclopedia Invites Biologists to a Weeklong Open House

Biology Week, an online "open house" for biologists, biology students, and anyone else interested, begins Monday, September 22 on Citizendium (, the next-generation wiki encyclopedia started by Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger.

We want to extend a special invitation to biologists at research institutes, colleges and universities across the world. The Citizendium project needs your input and specialist knowledge to become an up-to-date and reliable reference work.

Why participate on an online reference project?

Online knowledge projects, of which the Wikipedias are the most prominent, have shown that the internet is fertile ground for swiftly accumulating and sharing information. In part, this is because online resources have clear advantages over traditional paper-and-print encyclopedias.

Unlike traditional works, online information need never go out of date. Furthermore, cheap disk space, bandwidth and the potential participation of millions of people means that we can capture humanity's understanding of reality with far more nuance and detail. This is not the traditional goal of paper-and-print encyclopedias, which have tended to offer only mainstream views of the most important aspects of a small number of topics. Traditional encyclopedias are also expensive to research and produce, and are only available to (relatively wealthy) libraries and consumers. The Citizendium, like Wikipedia, is free-- and can be used, reproduced and distributed to educators, students and private citizens worldwide.

Wikipedia, in particular, has been wildly successful, and has inspired many online knowledge projects-- from collections of pop culture trivia to earnest, specialist projects such as Scholarpedia and the Encyclopedia of Earth. Online collaboration and publishing have been shown to be both viable and valuable. Despite the proliferation of online projects, however, a reliable general reference work has not yet arisen. As academic users well know, English-language Wikipedia articles are of uneven (and fluctuating) quality. And while the Wikipedia governance model was a bold and innovative leap forward when created, its problems have tarnished Wikipedia's reputation and credibility.

Why Citizendium?

Citizendium was founded on the proposition that we can do better. For one, we have radically rethought editorial policy and governance. Unlike Wikipedia, we do not require citations for claims commonly known to experts, and we require contributors to use their real names. Even more crucially than this, though, contributors to the Citizendium believe that if a reference work is to be truly useful, it must be reliable. Though anyone can write articles for us, we want and need experts to insure that our information is correct and up-to-date.

To help the reader gauge the reliability of our information, we grade our articles according to their reliability, and we put a disclaimer at the top of all articles with unverified information. Credibility is lent to an article in a very traditional way, by means of approval by experts ("editors"). So that readers know the articles they read are reliable, approved versions are closed to editing, but can be further worked on out of the public eye (on “Draft” pages). These drafts may themselves eventually become approved.

By being online, our articles can be associated with large amounts of supplementary information. Of course, this includes the usual multimedia suspects: pictures, videos, timelines and so on. The Citizendium also strives to provide our articles with annotated bibliography, and, when the subject matter demands it, high-level, technical discussions of a topic (“Advanced” articles).

Though Citizendium is still fairly young (just under two years old) we have made significant progress. We have more than 8,000 articles in various stages of development and well over six million words in content.

Biology at Citizendium

CZ covers many fields, academic and beyond, but activity in the biomedical fields has been especially visible: Biology is second to history in number of articles, second in number of authors and fourth in number of editors.

Biology ( ) was the first article to be approved in Citizendium. The article makes good use of our distinctive subpage system to direct users to related articles, bibliography, external links, pictures and video.

This article's development also highlights how experts and non-experts work shoulder to shoulder at Citizendium, and proves that this kind of public-expert collaboration works well. A further opportunity for work of this kind will be "Biology Week"-- the first of a whole series of topic-dedicated weeks at Citizendium.

What is Biology Week?

Biology Week will be held September 22 to September 28, 2008. This is a chance for biologists to share their expertise by creating and improving biology articles, or to indulge their curiosity by browsing (and contributing to) articles on other subjects. Editors and authors from the Biology Workgroup at Citizendium will be on hand to help with the registration process, to answer questions, and to help new contributors get started. Citizendium is open to all contributors, expert and amateur alike, but we particularly need the participation of academics and researchers. Please join us, and let students and faculty at your institution know about Citizendium's Biology Week!

Thanks for your time, and feel free to contact any of us with comments or questions.