The topic of Wikipedia contribution has come up before, but I am interested in the community's opinion on peer-reviewed wiki publishing (e.g., Scholarpedia). I would like to know if there is any advantage for a PhD student to publish in such an online venue versus the traditional journal publication for review content. The advantages I see to the wiki approach is free of charge publication, open access for all, not necessarily being limited by character limits. However, the disadvantages I see could be the citation being completely ignored by the intended audience and therefore missing out on the benefits of scientific communication and the possible loss of accompanying reputation for the publication. I would also worry these publications would be ignored or minimized by future supervisors and review committees.

5 Answers 5


Scholarpedia has adapted many of the processes of a peer-reviewed journal. However, it is still a kind of encyclopedia and not a research journal at all. Note that I'm not making any kind of judgment or evaluation in the previous sentence: the main page of the site reads

Welcome to Scholarpedia, the peer-reviewed open-access encyclopedia, where knowledge is curated by communities of experts.

So you seem to be asking: "Should I publish my paper in an encyclopedia rather than a research journal?" I think that's a kind of strange question: have you really written something which lies ambiguously between a research paper and an encyclopedia article?

The above is not a rhetorical question: please let us know!

It is also possible that I have fixated too much on "scholarpedia" and it is not the type wiki publication that you really intended. If so, please let us know. It would be helpful to give at least one specific example of the kind of "peer-reviewed wiki" you have in mind as a plausible alternative to a research journal.

Added: @MHH has helpfully clarified that the OP is probably talking about a review paper, or what in my field would be called a "survey paper". (The word "review" was also used at least twice in a different sense in the OP's question, and that was enough to confuse me.) I must begin by admitting that review/survey papers are rare in my field (mathematics), and that they would be written by PhD students is almost unprecedented. So I am almost at the point of wanting to delete my answer for lack of understanding and relevant expertise.

However, let me first try this: it seems to me that a review paper should be published in a research journal if it contains original research: i.e., some kind of synthesis, analysis, new perspectives, helpful simplifications, and so forth are being added. Of course "original research" is exactly what is not wanted in an encyclopedia article, although I don't see why this would necessarily be the case for all peer-reviewed wikis. So going more from general academic common sense than specific insight (i.e., caveat emptor), I would say that this should be the deciding factor between publishing a survey paper in a research journal or in a wiki. Let me further say that most or all of the advantages cited by publication in a wiki can be achieved by publishing in certain kinds of research journals: "free of charge publication, open access for all" certainly. Many electronic journals do not advertise hard "character limits", but of course there must be some kind of upper bound must exist, right? No one wants a 5000 page survey of the literature.

  • He did say a "review paper" though. Perhaps that actually is what scholarpedia is looking for? I assume that is what he means by review content Jun 4, 2014 at 3:43
  • @MHH: Thanks very much for your comment. I have tried to push things back on track, but maybe this question is simply not for me to answer. We'll see... Jun 4, 2014 at 4:05
  • While I am referring to a review paper (common in biology), there certainly is new content being communicated as you describe. The inherent value I see in publishing a scholarly Wiki would be somewhat transformed from the traditional review to fit the format of an encyclopedia entry. It seems the cynical view would be that such wikis are currently not worth it.
    – user479
    Jun 4, 2014 at 13:20
  • Also with respect to character/page limits, that's entirely dependent on the journal. Absolutely no one will read 5000 pages, but some reviews are "mini" (3-5 pages) and others are more comprehensive (more than 20 to 30 pages).
    – user479
    Jun 4, 2014 at 13:22
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    @leonardo: I agree entirely with your second comment and mostly with your first. What you say is probably "the cynical view", yes, but one could also have this view without being cynical. For instance I contributed a lot to wikipedia over a period of several years, and more recently much, much more to math.SE and mathoverflow.net, sites which -- though distinct in mechanics from a traditional wiki, evidently come from a similar spirit. I just don't try to publish my research or formal exposition in such places. Jun 4, 2014 at 16:03

I think there is no definite answer at the moment since one can not judge now how scholarpedia will develop. At the present stage I think that the impact will be low and many colleagues may not know about scholarpedia. However, this may change in the future and the outcome will depend a lot on the quality of contributions. If you think that scholarpedia is a valuable resource, a good project and that you can contribute something, I'd say: Go ahead.

I also remember a quote by Gian-Carlo Rota: "You'll be better known for your expository work." I am not sure if this applies to everybody equally but it is a point.

  • "I also remember a quote by Gian-Carlo Rota: "You'll be better known for your expository work."" I remember that too and really believe it (I expect that it will apply to me more than most). But is that really applicable here? The choice is not between taking time out to do expository writing rather than pure hard-nosed research, but rather where to publish a given piece of writing (for which the exact combination of research vs. exposition unfortunately remains unclarified). Jun 4, 2014 at 7:10
  • It seems most sensible to assume that some "original research" has been done (otherwise publication in a journal would not be possible). Given that, is there a good argument for a very junior person to publish in a newfangled venue like a wiki where they will get little or no "academic credit" versus a (possibly open-access) journal in which they will get the "credit" they should for doing research? I am having a hard time seeing such an argument. Jun 4, 2014 at 7:12
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    Everybody is better known for their expository work, but, alas, everybody also only gets PhDs or tenure due to original research :)
    – xLeitix
    Jun 4, 2014 at 7:49
  • As far as I know, having expository work besides original research greatly helps for getting jobs or tenure. So, if the work is a review work, it may be difficult to publish it in a journal as a newcomer.
    – Dirk
    Jun 4, 2014 at 14:50

What I find most interesting about wikis is that they are collaborative platforms with a public version history. This allows updates in addition to the "version of record" functionality of traditional publishing.

Scholarpedia has both, though if you are after Open Access in the sense of the Budapest definition (which allows reuse by anyone for any purpose), it is not there yet.

I am involved with a scheme in which the version of record (of review articles) is published classically in the journal, but in a way that allows the article to lead a second life as an updatable article on the English Wikipedia. Further details can be found here and here.


Both answers are excellent, I would like to add that today is too soon to answers because we don't know how the publication system will evolve.

Right now, we are following a traditional, centuries old system in with scientists gain reputation from their publications, which in very recent years were (and in some countries and some disciplines still are) just in paper.

Open access is "disruptive technology" for this system, but it may regard not only the licenses of research publications, but the very shape they can assume. There are experiments with peer review too. We can definitely imagine a future when sites like academia.se (or math.se, or others) will be taken into account for evaluation a scholar profile. For coders, is somehow customary to look at their GitHub or StackOverflow account...

And I remember at least one case (I don't have a reference, sorry) in which, among other things, a professor gained his tenure also for his concrete and excellent contributions to Wikipedia.

It is a matter of customs, habits, technology and culture of academia and his communities.

  • 2
    Open access is "disruptive technology" for this system — [citation needed] Open access is an entirely orthogonal issue to OP's question.
    – JeffE
    Dec 21, 2014 at 23:03
  • among other things, a professor gained his tenure also for his concrete and excellent contributions to Wikipedia — David Eppstein is a computer scientist whose Wikipedia contributions were considered a serious part of his publication record for his full-professor promotion case. That said, his Wikipedia efforts were likely considered as an additional bonus rather than as a replacement for his traditional publications.
    – JeffE
    Dec 21, 2014 at 23:06
  • I was referring to "open access" in a very broad sense: experiment on opening "peer review" are IMHO still part of the open access/open science wave, as criticism towards the "publishing articles only" system. I agree that these are experiments and the revolution is not happened yet.
    – Aubrey
    Dec 21, 2014 at 23:31

I want to focus on one point touched on in a couple of the other answers: wiki is a class of software that tends to have a certain set of features (though the features vary from one wiki to another). The technical features might impact the value to the audience, but I don't think they have inherent advantages or disadvantages like those described, from the perspective of the author.

A wiki-based publication, a traditional journal, or other formats may have any number of approaches to charges for publication, open access to readers, character limits, and may have varying reputation.

I'd urge PhD candidates considering questions like these to focus more on the specific publication, as measured against criteria like this, rather than worrying about the technical underpinnings of the journal. A publication's policies, processes, and record will have more of an impact on its value to you, than will the technology it uses.

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