Scholarpedia and Wikipedia are both free online encyclopedias.

They use the same Wiki software.

They are very different in the quality and quantity of their articles..

The differences are

The English language edition of Wikipedia has over two million articles. Scholarpedia has 7-800.

Wikipedia articles cover a wide range of topics. Scholarpedia covers a small number of scientific topics.

Anybody can contribute to Wikipedia. Contributions to Scholarpedia are strictly moderated. Each article has one or more ‘curators’ who decides what appears in the article.

Some of the Wikipedia articles are very good, others are abysmal. The articles in Scholarpedia appear to be of consistently high quality. I am judging this by the quality of the curators. I have no way of assessing the quality of the content.

Scholarpedia articles are protected by copyright. Wikipedia articles are not.

Scholarpedia appears to be written almost entirely by academics. You might naively believe that academics see it as their duty, not only to advance knowledge, but also to disseminate it; especially if their salaries are paid by the taxpayer.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. Most academics do not engage in altruistic behavior, such as contributing to Wikipedia or writing blogs. They want money and prestige, and the way that they get those is by publishing. In particular, they accumulate brownie points by publishing research papers in referred journals. The more they publish and the higher the ‘quality’ of the journals in which they publish, the more they get promoted and the greater their prestige. There are no brownie points in blogs or Wikipedia articles.

Unlike Wikipedia, Scholarpedia has found a way of incentivising academics. It has done this by adopting the following rules.

  • Each article is written by an acknowledged expert.
  • Each article is peer reviewed.
  • Each article has a curator  who is responsible for its content. Curators do not have to write the content of their article, but they are responsible for its quality.
  • Article authors have to be invited, but anybody can make minor revisions [e.g. grammar fixes or corrections to facts]. Unlike Wikipedia, these corrections do not appear in the article until they are approved by the curator.  An expert does not face the possibility of having his work edited by some fifteen year old ignoramus.
These are all rules which send quality assurance signals to academics and encourage their participation.

Scholarpedia is not a competitor to Wikipedia. It has found a way of persuading academics to contribute to a public encyclopaedia, and to produce high quality articles which are available to anybody with a browser. I can see that Scholarpedia will be a great resource for science students.

Scholarpedia are also to be applauded for finding a way of using wiki technology to improve the process of academic publication. As they say on the Scholarpedia site -

“Herein also lies the greatest differences between Scholarpedia and traditional print media: while the initial authorship and review processes are similar to a print journal, articles in Scholarpedia are not frozen and outdated, but dynamic, subject to an ongoing process of improvement moderated by their curators. This allows Scholarpedia to be up-to-date, yet maintain the highest quality of content.”

If the Wikipedia and Scholarpedia are both using the same software why is the end result so different? The answer, of course, lies in their rules.  Scholaropdia has cleverly created rules which encourage expert participation and produce high quality articles. Wikipedia has created rules which encourage mass participation and the creation of a large number of articles. However, it has failed to incentivise academics to contribute. It needs to do so. Perhaps by creating a special class of articles which are produced under similar rules to those used by Scholarpedia.

Scholarpedia on Wikipedia.

Wikipedia on Scholarpedia .

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