Encouraging professional physicists to engage in outreach on Wikipedia

Dr. Bill Phillips is a physicist with an extensive background in the field that spans decades. As a 1997 Nobel prize winner, Phillips has been at the helm of groundbreaking scientific discoveries. His affiliations with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, as well as the American Physical Society, reflect his continued dedication to both the discovery and dissemination of physics knowledge. 

Dr. Bill Phillips

Phillips participated in one of Wiki Education’s Wiki Scientists courses sponsored by the American Physical Society. Encouraged by colleagues at APS, and intrigued by the scope of Wikipedia, Phillips decided to enroll in the course to learn more about the platform. 

“When you make a proposal to the National Science Foundation to study something, there’s generally requirements that you do some outreach – that you have broader impacts in the scientific or more general community,” Phillips says. “I thought that learning something about writing, or editing quantum articles for Wikipedia would be one way of reaching the public.” 

Phillips considered several aspects of the Wiki Scientists course to be useful, first noting the foundational skills he learned about how to effectively navigate Wikipedia. 

“The course gave me the toolbox or at the very least, the references to the toolbox. It’s not like I’m going to remember everything I learned, but now I know where to go to look certain things up – I know that this knowledge exists, and I know where to find it,” Phillips says. 

Phillips also spoke about the ways in which the course informed his understanding of referencing on Wikipedia. He considered this to be an aspect of “Wikipedia Culture,” one in which he had not understood prior to taking the course. 

Phillips tied his knowledge about referencing to the issue of representation on Wikipedia, noting that Donna Strickland, a 2018 recipient of the Nobel Prize in physics, did not have a Wikipedia article until winning the prize. This issue, Phillips discovered, came down to referencing.

“Understanding the difference between original research as opposed to properly referenced articles is one of the things that I learned that I would classify as being part of Wikipedia culture.” Phillips says. 

Phillips also spoke candidly about bias and conflict-of-interest on Wikipedia, as someone with a personal Wikipedia page. 

“Another thing that’s part of Wikipedia culture, I would say would be the kinds of articles that you yourself, should or should not edit,” Phillips says. “You have to ask yourself: am I in a position to edit an article in a way that is free of bias? And obviously, editing an article about yourself is not the right thing to do under those circumstances, and so one should ask yourself equivalent questions about other kinds of articles.” 

Adding his expertise onto the platform in a way that was accessible was a significant component of Phillips’s Wikipedia experience. 

“I’m an expert on some rather small areas of physics. But for those areas of physics, I can bring clarity and in some cases, either correct mistakes or bring a more complete discussion to a subject,” Phillips says. 

Furthermore, Phillips encourages other professional physicists to contribute to Wikipedia in a similar way. 

“On Wikipedia you have the opportunity to bring an expert’s perspective to something that might not have been treated expertly. Everyone who finds Wikipedia to be a good resource ought to contribute in one way or another, to the ongoing value of Wikipedia. One way of doing that, of course, is to act as an editor,” Phillips says. 

The work of professionals like Dr. Phillips reinforce Wiki Education’s core values, establishing a mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge. 

To take a course like the one Bill took, visit learn.wikiedu.org.

Image of Bill Credit: Markus Pössel (User name: Mapos), CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Hero Image Credit: Stefan Kühn, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons



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