Welcome, Slashdot Readers!
So I got slashdotted. First, welcome to all of you, and thanks for reading. I knew opining on Wikipedia would create some attention, but I didn't quite gauge the scale of things. Anyway, some quick reactions:
1) I do know the difference between 'mitochondria' and 'mitochondrial DNA' - the NIH quote from that post is from a page entitled "mitochondrial DNA" and the point is to look at the results from a Google search of "mitochonrial DNA" - Wikipedia's first, and NIH is fifth.
2) When you critique Wikipedia, a few things are gonna happen:
a) ...the Wikipedians will come out and say: "Don't complain - edit!" Sorry, that's not my job. I do edit when it's something I know about (I've lent a hand to entries on the Replacements, Queen Elizabeth, Petrarch, and metabolic syndrome, among others). But when I look to Wikipedia to learn about something - ie, when I use it as a reference, not as a 'project' - I use it to understand a topic, not to help create the resource. You wouldn't want the ignorant likes of me editing those entries, anyway, right?
b) ...mention a few pages that are written poorly, and - brilliantly - they will be improved summarily. The epigenetics page has been nicely cleaned up in the past 24 hours. It doesn't debunk my argument, but it definitely wouldn't be exhibit A for me any more - and yes, it does show the power of Wikipedia.
c) ...people will accuse you of being ignorant, stupid, and a dumbshit. Whatever.
d) ...people will say you're trying to dumb down Wikipedia. Look, I make my life as a journalist. What we do at Wired is translate difficult topics - topics of urgency and significance but not necessarily ones that our readers would come across otherwise - so that people can understand what they are and why they matter. Whether you individually think we succeed or not, I can't control - that's for our readers to decide collectively. So far, they decide we do it pretty well. We've got 650,000 readers, two National Magazine Awards in past three years, etc etc. We are useful to many people. Same goes for Wikipedia. It is, like it or not, a filter, a tool that's for the benefit of readers who want to know about the topics it includes. I am such a reader. I have observed that, often, it defaults to an academic and impenetrable style when, in fact, some clarity and explanation would serve those readers well.
You may be a microbiologist, or a mathemetician, or a geneticist, and you have no problem understanding these entries. Congratulations - you are officially smarter than me and many, many, many other users of Wikipedia. But Wikipedia's not your little playground. It exists as a resource used by everyone; that is its power. Am I saying â€œdumb it down!â€? No. Am I saying science is hard? Yes. But itâ€™s not impossible to write clearly, nor to help the curious become the informed. With the collective resources Wikipedia has - even, at times, including myself - I think that it would be nifty if the writing could be clearer and better.
3) There are thousands (!) of new readers to this site now. Some of you will never return. But I hope some of you do, because I think what I'm trying to do here is what I'm asking of Wikipedia - trying to make sense of some very important trends in science and health and medicine, and trying to help a broader base of people understand them. It's great that there are scientists out there working on important things - genetics, biology, on and on. But I believe the true, full potential of these disciplines and their research lies in helping the broadest number of people understand it and appreciate it (indeed, if it's research funded in part by the government, it's incumbent on those scientists to help those citizen-patrons understand it).
So check back in. You may not agree with everything here. And it's not going to be definitive. But at least it may be from time to time- as it already seems to be today - a bit provocative.