Proposal:Wikiscience

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Strategic Priorities

Every proposal should be tied to one of the strategic priorities below.

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  1. Achieve continued growth in readership
  2. Focus on quality content
  3. Increase Participation
  4. Stabilize and improve the infrastructure
  5. Encourage Innovation


(Please excuse my bad English.)

Summary

The Wikimedia movement has the ability to create a wiki-based scientific collaboration platform. It will boost the productivity of the researchers. If the data and research it houses are under a free license, it will also enhance the freedom of the science. This in turn will enable the creation of more technologies, thus improving our life.

Proposal

Creating a wiki, customized for scientific collaboration. If different languages are needed (though the scientific world tends to use English), a language wikisystem similar to Wikipedia may be created, with a central scientific data storage akin to Wikimedia Commons.

Currently, the wiki is NOT proposed as a means to publish the works created by collaboration using it: researchers will be able to publish them wherever they like.

The scientific data stored on the wiki and the notions discussed there will be under a free license, preferably the combination of GNU FDL 1.3 or higher, and CC-BY-SA 3.0 or higher.

Motivation

Problem Description

Novadays, research centers are increasingly starved financially. They often cannot afford to research an interesting subject. They may seek collaboration with other centers, but finding a center interested in the same topic may be hard, and coordinating the research and its support may be even harder. All this influences negatively the amount of science created, and this trend is growing.

Another problem is that often the set of scientific data, collected during a research, may be useful to many other researches. The data, however, are typically either discarded after a short while, or stored in a way that makes inconvenient for other scientists to use them. Thus, the full scientific potential of the collected data is not utilized; other scientists often have to repeat them, at extra cost, or to abandon a research that could use them.

Also, science data and results are increasingly declared someone's intellectual property. (For example, a business finances a research in exchange for some kind of ownership, or other form of control over the results.) In most cases, the public access to them is then restricted. The net result is removing more and more scientific product from the scientific community, and thus strangling the scientific development.

An important negative consequence of this process is that the strangling of the scientific development also strangles the technological development, and thus, ultimately, the overall society development. Consider, for example, the social role of Internet.

Another negative consequence is that the process is self-fueling: it makes the proprietarizing of the science socially accepted, and thus invites the big businesses to engage further in it. This, in turn, changes the role of the proprietary science amassed by the businesses: from a tool for achieving technological and marketing advantage, to a weapon for legal defense and/or offense. And this role blocks the inroads of the science into the technology: in business science, a weapon used is a weapon blown, generally useless. All this slows further the science contribution to the society. Also, a weapon stocked in the arsenal, but not used, decreases the need for stocking more weapons - in science, for making new researches.

Problem Solution

A wiki system, backed by the technical skills of the Wikimedia community and by its influence, may become accepted means of science collaboration. If it gains some useful science-orientated extensions, it may quickly become popular. This may turn it into a convenient central meeting point for scientists who seek collaboration, and an effective way to ease the problem with finding a collaborator, and to manage the relations.

If such a wiki system has a central storage for scientific data, this may also alleviate the problem with the lost data scientific potential. The data submitted to the wiki will always be available both for peer review, which improves the work quality, and for developing new notions on its base, with minimal cost.

If this system licenses its contents under a free license, this will help retaining the scientific product in the society and the scientific community. This improves the society in several ways:

  • by making faster inroads into the technology, and improving our life
  • by enhancing the competition in this area (in several ways)
  • by enhancing the social perception that science (and knowledge as a whole) is meant to be free
  • by breaking the vicious circle of decreasing the science output, described above

Due to the importance of the science for our society, the total long-term (eg. 10 years) positive effect of creating a Wikiscience project may prove larger than the positive effects for all current Wikimedia projects together, for the same period.

System General Rules (proposal)

  • The wiki system is administered by the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF)
    • WMF provides free and ad-free workspace, data and tools hosting to scientific projects
    • WMF may deny its hosting to projects that violate the law and/or some general values, and/or are deemed non-scientific
    • WMF requires a free license (eg. GFDL + CC-BY-SA) for what is entered in the wiki, but the copyright is retained by the project participants
    • WMF is not a participant in the projects, and takes no credit for their scientific achievements
  • WMF considers every project as its own top authority: as long as WMF is concerned, no entity, including WMF, governs projects from above
  • Every project defines its own rules for participation, edit access, participants hierarchy, changing these rules etc.
    • WMF may provide some example sets of rules: projects are not bound to choose from these only, or to accept them in unmodified form.
    • The project rules are enforced by the project admins, and by technical means where feasible
  • A project is technically administered by its admin(s)
    • Project admins are required to not intrude on other projects (and technically limited where feasible); if they do it, they lose their admin rights
    • If a project has no qualified admins, WMF may offer to it the services of volunteer admin(s)
    • WMF admins perform technically the administration on behalf of the project participants, according to the project rules
    • WMF admins are not project participants, and take no credit for project's scientific achievements

Key Questions

  • How we are going to tell the scientific community about this great collaboration platform?
  • How to counter the FUD that will follow ("hardworking for freeriders", "communism" etc.)?
  • Who would be allowed to edit such a wiki?
  • Can such a wiki function without an "ordinary" editors hierarchy such as in research projects, or maybe with only a reputational system to be implemented?

Potential Costs

  • Customizing MediaWiki for scientific collaboration
    • Creating namespaces "Research" (meant to be the main namespace), "Person", "Team", and possibly others.
    • Creating a tool for viewing the recentchanges for a (main) page and its subpages (a project is expected to be presented here by a Research namespace page and its subpages).
  • Creating MediaWiki extensions that provide common scientific tools, eg.:
    • Charting extension
    • MW interface to PSPP or some other free software statistical package
    • Convertors between different scientific data formats
  • Adding support for storing the commonly used scientific data type files - values table, waveform etc.
    • Adding support for processing the stored data with the scientific tools provided.
  • Creating a storage for the scientific data and materials produced by the researches (if Wikiscience becomes popular, their volume can be very large, maybe even larger than Wikimedia Commons; this may require developing a distributed storage system)

References

Community Discussion

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