Wikipedia as a tool for contemporary history of science: A case study on CRISPR | PLOS ONE
peter.suber's bookmarks 2023-09-14
Abstract: Rapid developments and methodological divides hinder the study of how scientific knowledge accumulates, consolidates and transfers to the public sphere. Our work proposes using Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, as a historiographical source for contemporary science. We chose the high-profile field of gene editing as our test case, performing a historical analysis of the English-language Wikipedia articles on CRISPR. Using a mixed-method approach, we qualitatively and quantitatively analyzed the CRISPR article’s text, sections and references, alongside 50 affiliated articles. These, we found, documented the CRISPR field’s maturation from a fundamental scientific discovery to a biotechnological revolution with vast social and cultural implications. We developed automated tools to support such research and demonstrated its applicability to two other scientific fields–coronavirus and circadian clocks. Our method utilizes Wikipedia as a digital and free archive, showing it can document the incremental growth of knowledge and the manner scientific research accumulates and translates into public discourse. Using Wikipedia in this manner compliments and overcomes some issues with contemporary histories and can also augment existing bibliometric research.