Learning patterns/Wikipedia as a tool for astronomy education and outreach

A learning pattern foreducation
Wikipedia as a tool for astronomy education and outreach
Perseus' Stellar Neighbors.jpg
problemWikipedia is a key resource for anyone curious about astronomy. Therefore, ensuring there is quality and accurate astronomy information on Wikipedia in many languages is critical.
solutionThe quality and scope of astronomy-related articles varies greatly depending on language, with the English Wikipedia containing the most and highest quality information. The first priority of those interested in improving astronomy-related articles on Wikipedia should be translating articles into other languages or creating original content in non-English Wikipedias.
created on02:51, 12 April 2018 (UTC)

What question does this answer?Edit

Wikipedia is a common reference for students and anyone curious about astronomy; therefore, it is necessary to ensure there is high quality information on astronomy in all language Wikipedias.

Quality content on Wikipedia can also be of use to the astronomy education and outreach communities around the world. Wikipedia's use for astronomy education should be relatively clear; however, it is equally important for astronomy outreach - for example, by containing up-to-date information on the latest theories and discoveries in astronomy and space science. Due to Wikipedia's reputation as a reliable and neutral source, it can be a useful tool to push back against the sensationalization of science news, which can in turn fuel misconceptions and misunderstandings among the public.

Therefore, the question is, how can we improve coverage of astronomy-related topics on Wikipedia?

What is the solution?Edit

Personal Note: I led a discussion with members of the international astronomy education and outreach community during the CAP 2018 Conference in Fukuoka, Japan, for which I received a TPS grant. This learning pattern documents feedback from the astronomy community, which I believe will be useful for the Wikimedia community. It is my hope that the astronomy and Wikimedia communities can collaborate further in the future to improve astronomy-related content across Wikipedia and its sister projects. I intend to continue updating this page as this project on Wikipedia and Astronomy develops.

I consider there to be two main categories of articles relating to astronomy: technical articles that describe astronomical objects and phenomena, and articles that cover astronomy history and heritage, scientist biographies, and observatories, to name a few examples. There is still an underrepresentation of women and minority astronomers on Wikipedia, as well as a lack of quality coverage on indigenous astronomical practices, especially in the Southern Hemisphere. Some technical topics on the English-language Wikipedia are very well covered while others remain jargon-heavy and challenging for a casual reader to understand. With regard to both categories, coverage varies greatly in quality and scope depending on the language in question, with smaller-language Wikipedias containing significantly fewer articles.

The highest priority, as agreed upon by the members of the astronomy community with whom I engaged, was the critical need to translate quality astronomy-related content into non-English Wikipedias. Multiple individuals agreed that they viewed the English Wikipedia as reliable and high-quality, but did not trust the Wikipedia of their own native language. This was due primarily to a lack of reliable sources in the native language, and/or a dearth of active editors. I learned anecdotally that many astronomers and astronomy educators don't even bother to access Wikipedia in their native languages - they default to the English Wikipedia and recommend their students do the same.

It can often be a burden to seek information - generally and about astronomy and science in particular - in a second or third language. This creates a barrier between people and information; many individuals, especially in the Southern Hemisphere where non-English astronomy content is particularly lacking on Wikipedia, simply cannot access basic information about astronomy unless they are privileged enough to have studied a second language such as English. Removing the need to understand English is critical. All people should be able to learn about astronomy and discover the wonders of our universe in their native language.

Given that translation of content from English to other languages is key, this learning pattern will focus on how to best add content or translate into non-English Wikipedias.

Things to considerEdit

  • It is exciting and impactful to be able to read quality content in one's native language. This is especially important for...
    • ... languages with small speaking communities
    • ... languages of minority groups who may not have their language validated or legitimized by their government or dominant social environment
  • Translation versus writing original content
    • Every culture, and therefore every language, will approach and write about astronomical concepts differently. Wikipedia is a rich resource in that a curious reader can explore how an article is written in various languages, to glean differences, sometimes subtle, other times overt, in how an article is written.
    • Replicating the English version of articles across multiple languages could be seen as a double edged sword: on the one hand, having the same, accurate information on all versions is important, so that certain language Wikipedias aren't missing content, but on the other hand, the unique perspectives of each language or culture is lost.
      • The ideal solution would be to combine translated content with original content when creating new articles in non-English Wikipedias
  • Regarding definitions and translation of astronomical terms
    • It can be a challenge to translate astronomical and scientific terms in different languages - sometimes a word will not exist or will be used in different contexts. Therefore, one must pay attention to the specifics of the target language
      • For example, in the Ainu language, there are multiple words for "star," including "nociw," "rikop," and "keta."
    • Additionally, the definitions of astronomical terms can change. For example, the definitions of "planet" and "Astronomical Unit" have changed over time.
  • Different priorities in content
    • Different countries and cultures have different interests and priorities when it comes to astronomy-related topics
      • For example, existing content on certain language Wikipedias focuses more on space science than astronomy
      • This can also be seen by sub-field, for example, radio astronomy articles may be better written in the language Wikipedias of countries with radio telescopes or flourishing radio astronomy research communities
      • Editors should be mindful of differences based on language, culture, and geography

Where to useEdit

It is valuable to have quality content in all languages, however, prioritization is often necessary, so here are a few thoughts to keep in mind:

  • One should prioritize languages for which its speakers would be less able or have fewer opportunities to access content in other languages

Footnote [1]: This statistic on Arabic speakers came from Katherine Maher's talk at WikiDivCon 2017.


See alsoEdit

Related patternsEdit

External linksEdit