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Science Is Shaped by Wikipedia: Evidence from a Randomized Control Trial

42 Pages Posted: 20 Sep 2017 Last revised: 4 Oct 2017

Neil Thompson

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management; MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL)

Douglas Hanley

University of Pittsburgh

Date Written: September 19, 2017

Abstract

“I sometimes think that general and popular treatises are almost as important for the progress of science as original work.” - Charles Darwin, 1865

As the largest encyclopedia in the world, it is not surprising that Wikipedia reflects the state of scientific knowledge. However, Wikipedia is also one of the most accessed websites in the world, including by scientists, which suggests that it also has the potential to shape science. This paper shows that it does.

Incorporating ideas into a Wikipedia article leads to those ideas being used more in the scientific literature. This paper documents this in two ways: correlationally across thousands of articles in Wikipedia and causally through a randomized control trial where we add new scientific content to Wikipedia. We find that the causal impact is strong, with Wikipedia influencing roughly one in every three hundred words in related scientific journal articles.

Our findings speak not only to the influence of Wikipedia, but more broadly to the influence of repositories of scientific knowledge. The results suggest that increased provision of information in accessible repositories is a cost-effective way to advance science. We also find that such gains are equity-improving, disproportionately benefitting those without traditional access to scientific information.

Keywords: Wikipedia, Public Goods, Science, Dissemination of Knowledge, Innovation

JEL Classification: O31, O33, O32

Suggested Citation

Thompson, Neil and Hanley, Douglas, Science Is Shaped by Wikipedia: Evidence from a Randomized Control Trial (September 19, 2017). MIT Sloan Research Paper No. 5238-17. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3039505

Neil Thompson (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management ( email )

100 Main Street
E62-416
Cambridge, MA 02142
United States

MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) ( email )

Stata Center
Cambridge, MA 02142
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.neil-t.com

Douglas Hanley

University of Pittsburgh ( email )

Pittsburgh, PA 15260
United States

HOME PAGE: http://doughanley.com/

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