April 22, 2021

Research Article: “Meta-Research: Citation Needed? Wikipedia and the COVID-19 Pandemic” (Preprint)

The article linked below (preprint) was recently shared on bioRxiv. 


Meta-Research: Citation Needed? Wikipedia and the COVID-19 Pandemic


Omer Benjakob
Tel Aviv University, Israel

Rona Aviram
Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel

Jonathan Aryeh Sobel
Technion, Israel


via bioRxiv
DOI: 10.1101/2021.03.01.433379


With the COVID-19 pandemic’s outbreak at the beginning of 2020, millions across the world flocked to Wikipedia to read about the virus. Our study offers an in-depth analysis of the scientific backbone supporting Wikipedia’s COVID-19 articles. Using references as a readout, we asked which sources informed Wikipedia’s growing pool of COVID-19-related articles during the pandemic’s first wave (January-May 2020). We found that coronavirus-related articles referenced trusted media sources and cited high-quality academic research. Moreover, despite a surge in preprints, Wikipedia’s COVID-19 articles had a clear preference for open-access studies published in respected journals and made little use of non-peer-reviewed research uploaded independently to academic servers.

Source: https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.03.01.433379

Building a timeline of COVID-19 articles on Wikipedia from 2001-2020 revealed a nuanced trade-off between quality and timeliness, with a growth in COVID-19 article creation and citations, from both academic research and popular media. It further revealed how preexisting articles on key topics related to the virus created a framework on Wikipedia for integrating new knowledge. This “scientific infrastructure” helped provide context, and regulated the influx of new information into Wikipedia. Lastly, we constructed a network of DOI-Wikipedia articles, which showed the landscape of pandemic-related knowledge on Wikipedia and revealed how citations create a web of scientific knowledge to support coverage of scientific topics like COVID-19 vaccine development. Understanding how scientific research interacts with the digital knowledge-sphere during the pandemic provides insight into how Wikipedia can facilitate access to science. It also sheds light on how Wikipedia successfully fended of disinformation on the COVID-19 and may provide insight into how its unique model may be deployed in other contexts.

Direct to Full Text Article (March 1, 2021 version)
22 pages; PDF.

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.