An experiment in outsourcing science

The Gene Wiki effort leverages the idea of “community intelligence” (like other similar projects such as WikiPathways, WikiProteins, and WikiGenes). It creates a two-way flow of gene annotation information in which the community of users is also the community of contributors. It enables and empowers anyone to add new content to a centralized gene annotation resource, a role that is traditionally reserved for professional curators.

So while individuals acting individually have the power and responsibility to develop the Gene Wiki, there is also a role for focused and systematic improvements. In fact, the original Gene Wiki paper was one example, an effort to systematically create stubs with a consistent design and content.

Unfortunately, we don’t currently have dedicated funding to continue systematic Gene Wiki development, so we don’t have a dedicated person to implement the growing list of good ideas. However, using a limited amount of funding we have from a previous grant, I want to explore the idea of outsourcing a well-defined project or two to keep things moving.

There are (at least) three ways that I think this could work:

  • We could set up a contract with a private person, pay the contracting fee on delivery of work, and consider possible authorship on the next Gene Wiki paper depending on the specific project.
  • We could set up a contract with an educational entity as part of a class or internship. The student/intern would be assured authorship on the next Gene Wiki paper and get class credit, and we would pay the contracting fee to the school/department.
  • We could set up a small research collaboration with another research group. Both the student and the advisor would get authorship on the next Gene Wiki paper, and no money would change hands.

So for the sake of argument, let me propose one project idea here. Currently, the vast majority of Gene Wiki articles are essentially islands within Wikipedia. They are neither linked to nor linked from other relevant articles. Utility of the Gene Wiki would be greatly enhanced by better integrating them into the rest of Wikipedia. Therefore, this project would involve downloading and parsing protein-protein interactions from BioGRID, and then adding a new section to Gene Wiki pages that lists known and reliable interactions (example). Gene symbols of course would be linked to other Gene Wiki pages.

Interested in the project above? (Or any other potential Gene Wiki projects)? Thoughts on the way outsourcing arrangements would be structured in general?

(Original icon from Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC-BY-SA 3.0.)


  1. You might want to consider Amazon's Mechanical Turk. Some of the tasks might be too complex for that method but it might be worth looking into.

  2. Interesting idea and one worth considering. Ideally I'd like someone to do it by scripting it up (for consistency and for the educational opportunity), but if push comes to shove, I just want to get it done. Thanks…

  3. While people may have different views still good things should always be appreciated. Yours is a nice blog. Liked it!!!

  4. I wish this project would succeed. Thus we have more accesses to discussion about genes.

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