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Is Wikipedia the Public Face of Mass Spectrometry?

Presented at the 57th ASMS Conference on Mass Spectrometry, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, May 31th to June 4th 2009

Is Wikipedia the Public Face of Mass Spectrometry? 57th ASMS Conference on Mass Spectrometry, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, May 31th to June 4th 2009


Wikipedia is a web resource that is described as “the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.” The low barrier for participation is both one of the best and worst features of the site. The drawbacks of easy participation are the sometimes opinionated, uninformed or simply malicious editors whereas the advantages are fast content creation that is easily accessible and often self-correcting.

Hypothesis: Wikipedia is the most popular source of on-line mass spectrometry information and has the potential to be a source of good information if a sufficiently large number of mass spectromerists become editors.

What is Wikipedia?

Founded less than a decade ago, Wikipedia is now one of the most popular websites and the most popular reference site.

Founded in 20011
2.9 M English language articles (13 M total)2
7th most popular website (#1 Reference)3
Used by 9% of global Internet users3
684 M visits annually4

Wikipedia Growth Plot

The growth of the English Wikipedia was exponential between 2003 and 2006 with a doubling time of one year. Growth is now linear.

Mass Spectrometry on Wikipedia

~ 200 pages in the category “Mass Spectrometry”
WikiProject Mass spectrometry
Wikimedia Commons category “Mass Spectrometry”

Top 10 Google Hits for the term Mass Spectrometry:

Michigan State University
American Society for Mass Spectrometry
University of Arizona
Scripps Research Institute
Colby College
Wikimedia Commons
Virginia Tech

The Wikipedia entry is hit #1 and Wikimedia Commons (diagrams and photographs) is hit #7. ASMS is hit #3 with university courses filling most of the other top spots.

The Wikipedia page Mass Spectrometry had 517,000 views in 2008, more than 1400 hits per day. The dip in the summer and peaks at mid-semester suggests educational use.

Becoming a Wikipedia Editor

Because Wikipedia is such an important source of mass spectrometry information, participation by the mass spectrometry community should by encouraged both in an organized and ad hoc manner. It should be noted that there are significant barriers to scientists desiring to become Wikipedia editors, but there are also many useful resources.

Wiki document markup
Wikipedia protocols
Article layout
Interacting with non-science editors
Reconciling scientific and Wikipedia review

Tutorials and documentation on Wikipedia
WikiProject Mass Spectrometry
WIkiProject Chemistry
WikiProject Physics
WikiProject Molecular and Cellular Biology
Chemistry Portal
Physics Portal
Molecular and Cellular Biology Portal
Reference markup tools
Current Wikipedia Editors


Develop a formal policy on Wikipedia content
National organizations (ASMS, BSMS, ANZSMS, etc.)
International Mass Spectrometry Foundation
Coordinate with relevant committees
Education, History, Standards, etc.
Encourage participation
Evaluate content


McNeese March 2009

In March of 2009, I visited McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana to give a talk and visit my collaborator Prof. Mark Merchant, “the alligator man”. Mark gave me a tour of his alligator holding facilities on campus.

Alligator in pen at McNeese State University, March 2009

Mark wanted to get this alligator to open its mouth so that I could get a good photo.

Prof. Mark Merchant with an alligator at McNeese State University March 2009
Prof. Mark Merchant with an alligator at McNeese State University March 2009

Sure enough, the alligator did open his mouth. Note Chemistry Department Head Ron Darbeau who was on the proper side of the fence during all of this. I was 15 feet away and the gate was open.

Prof. Mark Merchant testing alligator stimulus and response at McNeese State University March 2009.
Alligator at McNeese State University March 2009

In the next cage over, Mark scooped out a handful of baby alligators.

Prof. Mark Merchant with baby alligators at McNeese State University March 2009

I call the one on the right “Bitey” – he clamped down on my knuckle when I unwisely offered it to him.

Baby Alligators at McNeese State University March 2009

Mass Spectrometry on Wikipedia: Open Source and Peer Review

Presented at the 55th ASMS Conference on Mass Spectrometry, June 4, 2007, Indianapolis, Indiana

Mass Spectrometry on Wikipedia: Open Source and Peer Review, Mass Spectrometry on Wikipedia: Open Source and Peer Review


Develop a procedure for peer review of Wikipedia articles on mass spectrometry.


Wikipedia is an on-line encyclopedia that anyone can edit. The site is maintained by hundreds of users who create, edit and organize articles, oversee quality and consistency, moderate disputes, and guard against abuse. Anyone can contribute as much or as little as he or she desires. On the English language Wikipedia in early 2007, there were 1.4 M articles being edited by more than 150,000 users who were creating about 2000 new articles each day. Of these articles, 70 were in the category “Mass Spectrometry.”

Why is Wikipedia Important?

The public face of mass spectrometry is determined by the information that can be found most easily on the web.

Content Development Models

In April 2007, the top ten hits for “mass spectrometry” on the search engine Google were

  1. Wikipedia
  2. ASMS (What is MS?)
  3. ASMS
  4. Michigan State University
  5. University of Arizona
  6. University of Leeds
  7. University of Illinois, Chicago
  8. Scripps Institute

and on Yahoo

  1. Wikipedia
  4. Encyclopaedia Britannica
  5. ASMS
  6. Michigan State University
  7. Wikipedia
  9. Mass Spectrometry Blog
  10. University of New Mexico

Wikipedia is the #1 hit for “Mass Spectrometry” on the top five search pages

MSN Live Search

Wikipedia is the way that the public learns about mass spectrometry on the web yet the information is not subject to peer review and it is not developed in conjunction with any mass spectrometry organization.

Content Development Models

Three basic content development models are presented with their advantages and disadvantages. Here, a Wikipedian is someone who understands the workings of Wikipedia and can create and edit content and work with Editors, Bureaucrats and Administrators. A mass spectrometrist is a person who has or is working toward an advanced degree in mass spectrometry or has the equivalent work experience.

Open Model

The Open Model is in effect today. Wikipedians, who may also be mass spectrometrists, openly edit mass spectrometry content on Wikipedia, drawing on mass spectrometry literature and web-based resources.

Wikipedia Open Model

Advantages and Disadvantages

The advantage of the open model is that it is already in place. There are mass spectrometry entries on Wikipedia and anyone can add content within the bounds of the Wikipedia community. Wikipedians with a knowledge of mass spectrometry, chemistry, physics and other areas provide an ad hoc peer review.

The disadvantages are the time required to learn the Wikipedia system to effectively generate content and the fact that the site tends to favor the persistent and tactically adroit over the subject expert. Further, content generated on Wikipedia is not credited to the student or academic and copyright is not retained.

Closed Model

In the closed model, content is generated by mass spectrometrists and in many cases subject to peer review. For example, the ASMS “What is Mass Spectrometry?” web page. Another example is mass spectrometry journals, all of which are on line and some of these are openly available.

Advantages and Disadvantages

The advantage of the closed model is that the content is created by experts and peer reviewed. The disadvantage is that the information is not generally available and is often presented at a level not suited to a general audience. Some excellent works have been generated in recent years, such as the documents created by the ASMS Education Committee, Michael A Grayson’s Measuring Mass: From Positive Rays to Proteins, and a wide range of excellent mass spectrometry textbooks. However, only a few of these works are openly available. Consider a high school student writing a report on mass spectrometry. Where will that student obtain the information for that report?

The Protected Fork Model

The material in Wikipedia is not copyrighted and it can therefore be “forked” – all or part of the material can be removed and independently modified as long as the derivative material is also made available with the same unrestricted license. This is the kind of reciprocal license principle that is applied to open source software.

A Wikipedia fork must be available by unrestricted license, but it need not be openly edited: the fork can be protected. Under this model, mass spectrometry content is taken from Wikipedia under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License. This “Mass Spectrometry Wiki” can only be modified by a set of approved mass spectrometry editors whose work is reviewed by their peers. Non-wikipedian mass spectrometrists can participate without the need to learn the rules and language of generating Wikipedia content. Wikipedian mass spectrometrists can help to synchronize (or at least harmonize) the content between the two wikis.

Wikipedia protected fork model

Advantages and Disadvantages

The advantage of the Protected Fork Model is that it has the potential to bring in experts on a subject who may not otherwise be inclined to participate directly in Wikipedia. It offers the possibility of peer review within the Wikipedia construct. The disadvantage is the difficulty in synchronizing information (in both directions) and the need for experienced Wikipedians who are also experienced mass spectrometrists.


Wikipedia’s presentation of mass spectrometry has become a significant part of the way the public perceives the field. The mass spectrometry community should be aware of this fact and avenues for participation in Wikipedia should be encouraged and facilitated.


  • Wikipedia Mass Spectrometry Page:
  • Wikipedia Mass Spectrometry Category:
  • Mass Spectrometry WikiProject:
  • Mass Spectrometry Photos:
  • Mass Spectrometry Wikibook:
  • This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. CHE-0415360

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    2007 ASMS: Aerosol Desorption Electrospray Ionization

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