Research:Impact of Wikipedia on Academic Science

Duration:  2013- – 2019-
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This page documents a planned research project.
Information may be incomplete and change before the project starts.

Key PersonnelEdit

  • Neil Thompson, PhD – MIT Sloan School of Management
  • Lee Fleming, PhD – University of California at Berkeley
  • Shane Greenstein, PhD – Northwestern Kellogg School of Management

Project SummaryEdit

This project looks at how the presence of a scientific article on Wikipedia impacts scholarly discussion in academic journals. It does this by measuring how content added to Wikipedia is reflected in the text and citations of scientific articles.

This is an important question for Wikipedia and for science in general. For Wikipedia, it matters because evidence of a large impact could help in the recruitment of contributors for scientific articles, and because it would further anchor its reputation as an important scientific commons.

For science more generally, this question matters for policy, because a large impact would imply that bodies such as the National Academies should be very active in promoting contributions to Wikipedia and other forms of scientific commons.


This analysis will involve two parts: (i) A retrospective analysis of how the addition of previous Wikipedia articles has impacted academic science (ii) A prospective randomized control trial of adding Wikipedia articles and tracking their impact on academic science

In each case, the Wikipedia article’s topic and content will be analyzed and compared to the text and citations in scientific articles. In the latter case, these articles will be commissioned either directly by the authors or via an organization interested in contributing (see, for example,

A number of sub-questions may also be explored, including: -Is there a larger effect on scientific articles originating from universities that can’t afford access to journals (and / or non-affiliated researchers)? -Is the addition of an article, for example in Statistics, larger on that article’s field or on neighboring ones? -Is this also impacting how professors teach (this would instead be tracked by looking at changes in syllabi or other course materials, for example Harvard Business School cases)


The authors’ intentions are to disseminate these findings principally through academic channels (conferences, peer-reviewed publications, etc.), as well as online, for example on their websites or as a working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Additionally, the findings will be provided to the Wikimedia Foundation to contribute to their efforts to recruit contributors.

Wikimedia Policies, Ethics, and Human Subjects ProtectionEdit

The observational component of this project will only involve retrospective analysis of information on Wikipedia and textual / citation analysis of scholarly articles. The randomized trial will involve the addition of new Wikipedia articles – a standard part of Wikipedia’s typical operating procedure. As a result, the authors are unaware of any ethical or human subjects risks posed by either part of this research. It will, nevertheless, be vetted through the MIT human subjects process to be sure.

Benefits for the Wikimedia communityEdit

The two largest likely benefits of this project would be: (i) A direct estimation of the effect of the creation of a Wikipedia article on science, which might then help with the recruitment of new scientific contributors (ii) The addition of new scientific articles to Wikipedia


Initial retrospective analysis will probably begin in 2013-2014. The randomized trial is likely to begin in 2014 and last for several years.


Initial funding will be provided by the investigators’ research budgets. Additional funding may also be sought based on the costs of the randomized control trial.


External linksEdit

Neil Thompson's Homepage Lee Fleming’s homepage Shane Greenstein’s homepage


Neil Thompson (