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Wikipedia Reaches Out to NIH (and vice versa)

BY Matthew Burton | Sunday, July 19 2009

The National Institutes of Health scores big points for this: on July 16, they hosted Wikipedia staff and scientists at their headquarters in Bethesda, MD, for an all-day "Wikipedia Academy." The goal of the event was to recruit knowledgeable editors and teach them about Wikipedia standards and practices, with the end goal of improving the science articles on the world's largest, most popular encyclopedia. From the press release:

"Wikipedia Academies are public outreach events, usually lasting one or two days, aimed at engaging academics and other subject-matter experts who are not familiar with wiki culture or online communities," said Frank Schulenburg, head of public outreach for the Wikimedia Foundation. "In presentations and workshops, experienced Wikipedia authors teach the participants how to contribute to Wikipedia and orient the audience to Wikipedia’s structures and community policies."

To satisfy the public’s growing need for reliable health information, NIH and the Wikimedia Foundation want to increase the availability of accurate medical and health information available to the public. At the same time, they hope to establish strategies to interlace the distinct cultures of Wikipedia and the research community.

Health information is one of the most popular searches on the Web, and Wikipedia serves over 300 million unique visitors every month. So whether or not its information is accurate, it's a primary source for many Americans. NIH could have gone the typical route and warned the public against using unreliable sources for information, but they get it: that's not going to happen. Wikipedia is going to stay popular, so it's vital that it provides correct information. I don't know which side reached out first, but I'm glad a government agency is so willing to coordinate with an unofficial (and controversial) source.

Here's the full press release.