Building the Wikipedia for academic research

January 21, 2009 at 9:26 pm Leave a comment

One of my occasional frustrations with the academy is the walled garden within which it operates. Too often, the theoretical and empirical work that academics do is shared only among a small group of similarly focused, educated, and interested peers within research groups and at peer institutions.

We are great at discovery, but not so at dissemination. We learn a lot, but don’t teach nearly enough.

Some of my colleagues, when describing members of their workgroups as “popular” —  for focusing their attention on translating academic jargon in articles aimed the general population, or for explaining the themes and implications of studies that are tucked away in elite academic and research journals that cost thousands of dollars to even access — use it as a pejorative term. 

I think we should treat the “mass market” as a collection of students, that we should use the popular press as an alternative classroom, and that technology should help us liberate and share knowledge.

The academy, however and unfortunately, has not yet embraced or harnessed the potential of the Internet to bridge the powerful, important, and interesting work being done in the labs and libraries within its ivory towers with the equally powerful, important, and interesting work being done in “the real world.”

All of this makes me excited about the potential and promise of, an ambitious and awesome project to make public and accessible the results of publicly-funded research. Its aim is to be the “Wikipedia for academic research.”

Below is a recent email I received on a graduate school list-serve about Check it out, contribute or edit an entry (or two!), and let’s build something together.

play, think…

J.R. Atwood


Hello Friends and Colleagues,

I’ve included you on this list because I’ve probably bent your ear about before, and/or you are an academic and can help. Please read and forward along!

Did you know that while most academic research is publicly funded, most of the public and scholars developing world cannot access it? is one solution to this problem.

AcaWiki is a “Wikipedia for academic research” and hosts user-contributed summaries of  peer-reviewed papers. While AcaWiki facilitates access to academic papers to the public, it also helps researchers by offering easily digestible summaries of papers, commentary, and discussion.

AcaWiki is a nonprofit organization and all content is contributed under the CC Attribution license.

Here is Where you Come in 

We just finished building the BETA version of the AcaWiki site and need your help in two ways:

1. Test Drive the Site

Before AcaWiki makes a big announcement to the public we want your feedback! Does the site work well? Is it confusing? How can it be improved?

Check out and fill out this quick one-page survey, or email comments to

 2. Contribute a Summary

We certainly don’t want to launch the site with nothing on it! Write up a summary of your favorite peer-reviewed academic paper, or one of your own! As a special thank you, we’d like to offer a $20 gift certificate to to anyone on this list who contributes one full summary (or more) by January 31st, 2009. We have limited gift certificates so if you receive this via forward please email before acting on this offer.

Here are a few examples of summaries:

AcaWiki will likely officially launch in February.

Thanks for all your help and please forward!


Team AcaWiki


Also of great interest, if you are intrigued by the AcaWiki project, is debatepedia, a “global wiki encyclopedia of public debates, pro and con arguments, and supporting quotations.”

This site was created by a college buddy of mine and is best understood as “the Wikipedia of debates” with the aim of engaging “citizen-editors in centralizing original arguments – as well as arguments and quotations found in millions articles, essays, and books – into a single encyclopedia.” Cool factor of this site: debatepedia is endorsed by the United States National Forensic League.


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Jason R. Atwood

I'm an avid trail runner and doctoral student at U.C. Berkeley who studies motivation and the relationship between the mind and body. This blog is a forum to share research, news, and musings about these topics of interest. More

Play is the beginning of knowledge.

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