The Physics of a WikiProject: WikiProject Physics
This week we contemplated relativity with WikiProject Physics. The project was started in June 2005 and has grown to include 43 Featured Articles, 4 Featured Lists, and 42 Good Articles. WikiProject Physics maintains four portals covering Physics, Electromagnetism, Gravitation, and X-ray Astronomy. We interviewed Christopher Thomas and Headbomb.
What motivated you to join WikiProject Physics? What area of physics interests you most? Do you have any expertise in physics?
- Christopher Thomas: I was first and foremost interested in writing articles about physics-related topics and improving the quality of existing articles. Working with WikiProject Physics came later. It serves as a very useful meeting ground for getting advice about how best to handle various problems that come up, and getting the attention of a pool of editors who have the expertise to address concerns with any given article.
- I am at best an "armchair physicist". While I enjoy the subject and have read a fair bit about many facets of it, my formal training is with electronics and computing. As a result, I consider myself an adjunct member rather than a full member of WP:Phys, and my main function (other than cleaning up obvious problems) is to highlight problem-articles so that those with discipline-specific expertise can address them.
- Particle physics, astrophysics, and cosmology are the subjects I usually follow. I have work-related expertise with optics, lasers, and semiconductor physics, but rarely end up editing those articles.
- Headbomb: I don't think anything really motivated me to join WikiProject Physics per se. I happened to be editing several physics articles [in particular, list of baryons, circa 2008] and people mentioned the physics project to be a good place to get feedback on it. So I joined, because that seemed to make a lot of sense to be part of the physics-oriented community of editors. It's a great place to coordinate efforts on certain topics, get feedback on some particular issue, or get insights on an area which isn't your area of expertise. Experts and other editors interested in physics should definitely join the project. Likewise for chemists and WikiProject Chemistry and all the other science WikiProjects.
- As for expertise, I'm currently a master's student in physics. I've got a fairly good grasp on the history of particle physics, and a pretty good background in solid-state physics and optics (both at the experimental and theoretical levels).
The project is home to 43 featured articles and 42 good articles. Have you contributed to any of these articles? Do you have any tips for editors attempting to bring a physics article up to FA or GA status?
- Christopher Thomas: I've only tangentially contributed. I've certainly edited articles such as black hole that have been through the process, but not as part of an improvement drive.
- If you want to bring an article to GA or FA status, be prepared to put in a very large amount of grunt work, and to have quite a lot of patience. The single most useful task, from my outside impression, is finding and adding references (as unsourced statements seem to be the biggest item picked on during review), but many other tasks are valuable as well. Having the persistence to shepherd an article through its long, slow, and often repeated passage through the review bureaucracy is also important.
- Article improvement to GA or FA status is a noble goal, and those with the patience and persistence to accomplish it have my respect.
- Headbomb: Yes, I worked pretty heavily on List of baryons (a featured list), and Quark (a featured article). The best tip, as Christopher Thomas mentioned above, is basically be prepared to do a lot of grunt work, and to reword every sentence 20 times before being truly happy with the end result. I've never really bothered with the Good Articles, mostly because my interests moved from a select group of articles to "large scale gnoming" assisted with AWB, bots, etc.... I do create content from time to time, but I'm pretty happy to bring it something to something that is both well-presented and decent, without going through the hassle of GAs and FAs.
Do you contribute to other science-based projects? Have there been any inter-project collaborations?
- Christopher Thomas: There's a fair bit of crossover between the Physics, Astronomy, and Astronomical Objects projects. At least one long-term IP editor has been very helpful facilitating communication between these groups. Usually joint efforts occur when something either very new or very dubious gets added to an astrophysics or cosmology article.
- Headbomb: Yes, in fact I'm pretty involved with WikiProject Academic Journals (probably created articles on ~100+ Academic journals, many of which related to physics, but several more related to medicine, mathematics, chemistry, biochemistry, ...) and WikiProject Elements (mostly with regards to individual isotopes), and I take the occasional stroll at WikiProject Astronomy and WikiProject Chemistry. For the non-science WikiProjects, I'm pretty involved with WikiProject Wikipedia Books and from time to time, WikiProject Videogames.
- This "inter-project" stuff led me to come up with the concept of Article Alerts. I was getting tired of missing proposed deletions and various other discussion concerning physics-related articles, and it was very tiresome to review every discussion process for articles that interested me. (See the original Signpost coverage of Article Alerts). Currently 700+ WikiProjects and Task Forces subscribe to the Article Alerts, so I think that's a pretty successful project.
- Another example of an inter-project collaboration I've led has been Journals Cited by Wikipedia, which is basically a compilation of the various
|journal= parameters of citation templates. This tremendously boosted the output of WP:Academic journals by allowing us to see which journal entry were missing, and which were important for Wikipedia (journals which we cite often should have decent articles, mostly because many readers will want to know about the journal's reliability, its history, etc...). I also compiled lists of missing journals for individual projects (Medicine, Biology, Plants...) to let them know how how their field is represented on Wikipedia. Prior to that compilation, we had some journal cited well-over 1000 times without any articles on them. Now all journals which have been cited more than 80 times on Wikipedia have an article. [Well, cited 80 times as as of last year, the compilation is pretty dated since the bot operator is inactive]. So I say that's another successful project.
Does the project have any difficulty recruiting new members? Does the technical nature of some physics-related articles limit contributions from editors without a physics background?
- Christopher Thomas: Some background is needed, but editors don't need to be true experts in order to contribute. The most valuable trait in that regard is to know how far your expertise goes and where it ends, so that you can get others to help with editing on topics where you're out of your depth. I've certainly done that often enough (that's one of the things the WikiProject is very good for).
- There's more than enough day to day cleanup work needed for the efforts of non-experts to be very useful. Alerting the project of problem articles or problem edits is also very helpful, and takes minimal expertise.
- Our real problem is retaining members. My understanding is that this is endemic to most technical topics on Wikipedia, not just to WikiProject Physics. The problem is twofold. First, editors burn out. The cleanup task never ends, and contrary to the initial goals of Wikipedia, articles don't constantly improve but instead find a balance point where improvement and degradation happen at the same rate. Second, not all editors are able to function in a collaborative environment. Every year or two there's a situation that escalates to ArbCom where an editor (expert or non-expert) has a position against consensus and refuses to drop it. One of the most bitter lessons to learn around here is that there will be times when you feel the position of other editors is just plain wrong, about something important - but that you should back down anyways, for the greater good. When people don't back down, they tend to escalate their actions until they get themselves removed from Wikipedia, and may take a few others with them (due to involvement or just to burnout from dealing with the dispute). This leads to a high turnover rate among experts, in the physics project, at least.
- That being said, we could be twice as many people involved and we'd still have work for everyone. In particular, some fields within physics are less well-represented on Wikipedia. I feel our optics and fluid dynamics articles are overall lacking compared to the our articles on other fields, so maybe we do need to do some targeted recruiting.
The project has its own portal. Do you contribute to the portal? What are your thoughts on the usefulness of portals?
- Christopher Thomas: I have never used the physics portal (might have visited it once to see what it was, or might not have). My impression is that it's most useful to users who want to find physics content. I'm more concerned with maintaining the content that I'm already aware of and in a position to help with. Of course, it's possible I'm misunderstanding the purpose of the portal.
- Headbomb: Nope, never used the physics portal; I don't really care about portals in general. I think they make a lot of sense for the smaller topics, like Portal:Lady Gaga, but when you've got something as big a topic as physics, it's very hard to maintain. So I'm pretty much sharing Christopher Thomas' viewpoint on this. Nice for others, but I'd rather spend time on the articles themselves. I think TStein is the one to is the most involved with the portal.
What are the project's most pressing needs and concerns? How can a new member help today?
- Christopher Thomas: Cleaning up vandalism is always useful (everywhere, not just on physics pages). After that, I'd suggest watching for edits that aren't obvious vandalism but that add information that sounds like it might not be correct. At that point, start a thread on the article's talk page to ask about it, and if you don't get people responding within a few days, leave a note at WT:PHYS to bring in additional eyes.
- This type of maintenance work is 90% of what WikiProject Physics does. It's pretty draining, so help spreading the load is always appreciated.
- Headbomb: Our Article Alerts report pretty much details the "pressing matters". For the rest, it mostly involved copy-editing, finding references, etc... And of course we always need to watch out for the crank scientists trying to insert weird POVs in articles, or various quacks, pseudo-scientists, etc... and people who mean well but are just plain wrong.
Anything else you'd like to add?
- Christopher Thomas: Remember that you're here to have fun. If you get tired of doing cleanup, take a break from it. If you want to make a really cool figure explaining Bremsstrahlung radiation or what-have-you, make one (just propose its use on the talk page, rather than swapping it in immediately, to avoid stepping on toes). Do what interests you, take a break when you need to, and you'll go a long way towards avoiding burnout. We've already lost far too many editors to that; the wiki will still be standing if you take a week off from vandalism patrol, so always take time to enjoy your editing!
- Headbomb: Pretty much what CT said. Take a stub, expand it. Or find an important historical publication in physics and create an article on it. Or create a book on a topic, and see if there's anything missing. And hey, if you want to help, join the project, and drop on our talk page.
Next week we'll break out the board games. Until then, plan your next move in the archive.