By Eileen Thorsos
At a university like Duke, we have access to a wealth of information in journal articles – information that literally costs an incredible amount of money if you as an individual were to pay for it yourself.
Sometimes – frequently – those journal articles aren’t easily available to someone who isn’t at a major university or institution and might not be digestible if you aren’t specializing in that field. So, where does the average person go these days for information? Google. And where is Google likely to send you? Wikipedia.
The terror and the beauty of Wikipedia is that anyone can edit any entry. So, the information on Wikipedia is imperfect, and someone else might change information you add. But, as the go-to place for information, Wikipedia provides a built-in audience. And, we who have ready access to technical information can share it on Wikipedia with no impediments.
When I first looked, Wikipedia didn’t have much to say about chlorinated tris (TDCPP), one of the flame retardants commonly used in furniture foam since the phase-out of pentaBDE. The page had last been edited in April 2013 by an automated program and had three sentences:
But, we know a lot more about TDCPP than three sentences, and it and its metabolites frequently appear in samples of house dust and of people’s urine… so the general public may want access to a little more information.
Laura Dishaw, a PhD student of Heather’s who studies TDCPP, and I collaborated to expand the information about TDCPP to a full entry, which Laura uploaded on Friday June 27, 2014. Please, check it out. And, please let me know if you find anything confusing or if you have lingering questions; we’d be happy to incorporate your suggestions if we can.
(Note: I don’t want to ignore the Toxipedia entry on TDCPP, which provides some similar information to the general public. But, I think Wikipedia itself should cover a chemical like TDCPP.)
Even when Wikipedia’s entry on TDCPP was just a stub, it received about 1200 page views every 90 days — nearly 4900 views a year. In one of the weeks since our revision went online, the page had an unusually high number of visitors, and I hope such increased traffic will turn into a trend now that the page contains much more useful information:
Despite the vast amount of technical information available on the web, it can be shocking how little information has made it to public forums like Wikipedia. And, especially when our research topics are publicly funded and important to public health, I feel obliged and excited to help change that.
So, look for future posts about our Duke SRC Wikipedia updates! And, if you specialize in a technical field, please consider assessing and improving how well Wikipedia handles your field.