Looking for global health-related Wikipedia contributors

In April 2016, I posted on the Effective Altruism Forum asking for people interested in contributing to Wikipedia in some domains that might be of interest to effective altruists. That helped a lot with the success of the project so far, and I’m now looking for more hands on deck to reach the next level of coverage on topics related to global health.

I’m looking for people who are:

  • interested in and capable of researching and writing on global health,

  • able to understand and deal with some of the bureaucracy of Wikipedia editing and/​or willing to learn how to get to that level of understanding, and

  • willing to accept relatively low (though still cumulatively substantial) pay.

Not all the research will necessarily go on Wikipedia, but Wikipedia articles will still be an important focal point of efforts. Additional insights that don’t necessarily fit on a Wikipedia page (such as those that fail Wikipedia’s notability , verifiability, and no original research criteria) can be shared in other venues such as Facebook posts and blog posts.

If you are interested, contact me by email at vipulnaik1@gmail.com or get in touch with me on Facebook.


1. Global health background: what we have done and where we’re headed

In 2015 and early 2016, I successfully experimented with content creation with Alex K. Chen. Alex made a number of Wikipedia pages, some of which I paid for directly. A notable type of page we had some success with was timeline pages. Inspired by my own work in 2014 working on timelines of some technology companies, I asked Alex to create many more timeline pages. He obliged. I liked how eyeballing these timelines gave me a quick intuition of how companies’ product, userbase, financial situation, and competitive landscape changed over time

In 2016, I sought to apply this knowledge and experience elsewhere. In particular, I was interested in improving coverage of global health on Wikipedia. A lot of private, government, and philanthropic money is spent on healthcare, health systems, and medical research, and much is known about the field and its history. However, when trying to understand the landscape, I had a lot of trouble keeping in my mind’s eye basic facts about the current state of things and the history. For instance, what is the relative burden and footprint of malaria, tuberculosis, cholera, and influenza? How has the fight against malaria changed over time, and what can we reasonably expect will happen in the next few decades? In the countries where malaria (or tuberculosis, or measles) is basically nonexistent, how did it get eradicated? And how do current antimalaria approaches compare with each other and with past ones?

Some of these questions were easy to answer once I chose to formulate them, some were hard. But I didn’t know of a one-stop shop where I could get answers to the easy questions and get intuition that would help me intelligently answer the harder ones. So I enlisted the help of Issa Rice (who’d been doing contract work for me for a while), Sebastian Sanchez (a friend who reconnected with me on seeing my Effective Altruism Forum post), and others, to help build a good global health knowledge base.

We worked on this in a variety of ways.

1.1. Timelines

The first timeline we made related to global health was the timeline of global health, originally by Issa Rice, but with subsequent expansion by others, including Amy Zhang, Sebastian Sanchez, and myself. I personally find this timeline fairly valuable for getting a quick sense of how global health has evolved, though there’s a lot of potential for expansion of what things were like pre-1800. One of the interesting things I found in the timeline (but couldn’t explicitly mention there) was the clustering of a large number of events around 2000; it’s not clear to me if this is a selection artifact on our part or a genuine phenomenon.

Since then, Sebastian Sanchez has worked on numerous timelines of two major types as well as a few others.

  1. Disease-related timelines (including malaria, cholera, tuberculosis, influenza, cardiovascular disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and various cancers). The timelines of malaria and cholera, which were among the earliest, have recently been significantly expanded and revamped. I find both these timelines quite informative. I often refer to the timeline of malaria when reading about present-day malaria interventions. And I frequently referred to the timeline of cholera when watching Jin (Wikipedia), a Japanese TV series about a modern-day doctor who time-traveled to 1860s Japan and applied modern medical knowledge to combat diseases there.
    What’s missing right now :

    1. We don’t have timelines for many diseases, such as measles, smallpox, polio, and Chagas disease. Our initial focus was on timelines for diseases that didn’t have existing history pages and/​or had a huge death toll. I’m now interested in finishing up timelines for the remaining current and past major diseases.

    2. Existing timelines can be improved and expanded, particularly with information on data before 1800 as well as a better sense of the changing geographical shape of the disease. In addition to creating new timelines, I’m hoping to shore up all the existing disease timelines to the level of the timelines of malaria and cholera.

  2. Country healthcare timelines have been interesting to look at to understand the evolution of regional and national healthcare systems and accomplishments. I referred to the timeline of healthcare in Japan while watching Jin.
    What’s missing right now: A lot of countries are missing, including the United States. For large countries, regional healthcare systems may also deserve their own timelines. Pre-1900 data is sparse for many countries, and deserves improvement. In some cases, ancient healthcare systems may deserve separate timelines. The timeline events can also be improved to give a better qualitative sense of how things were at various points in time.

  3. Sebastian worked on some one-off timelines, such as the timeline of hospitals. Other similar timelines we are considering will cover topics such surgery, medical testing, medical education, bacteriology, virology, and drug development.

1.2. Other deep pages

Following up on things he uncovered while working on the timeline of global health, Issa went on to make pages on topics such as the child survival revolution, health systems strengthening, and priority-setting in global health. We’re looking to create more such pages, such as endgame (infectious disease eradication), selective primary healthcare, and GOBI-FFF.

1.3. Organization and program pages

As we created the timelines, we found a lot of potential for new page creation. The timelines of global health and malaria spurred the creation of pages such as the Rockefeller Sanitary Commission, 3 by 5 Initiative, The State of the World’s Children, Global Initiative for Traditional Systems of Health, Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network, and Global Polio Eradication Initiative. In general, the flow was from timelines and deep pages to specific organization and program pages. However, sometimes investigating a specific program led us to identifying general concepts that deserved their own pages. In particular, while trying to get information on some of the organizations, Issa and I came across repeated use of the term “priority-setting” and this led Issa to create the page on priority-setting in global health.

We have a lot of new organization and program pages we are looking to create. You can get a list from our new article pool. But there are many other potential pages to work on that we have not yet listed.

2. How you can help

2.1. Super-casual help

If you are interested in doing very small amounts of work, you can help improve some of the existing pages, such as adding new events to timelines, or helping improve references on existing pages. These are small tasks that you can perform as you get time. The main upfront cost here is familiarizing yourself with Wikipedia’s norms as well as the sort of help we’d need. We’d be happy to provide assistance and guidance on this front.

2.2. Sporadic chunks of solid work

If you think you can devote a few chunks of a few hours every month or two, then creating an organization or program page when you get a chance can be a good use of the time. You basically do some research and collate the information in a Wikipedia page in your user space. With some help from us, you polish that to something that can be published to main space, and we then migrate it to main space. If you are unable to finish it up, somebody else can still use your userspace draft as a starting point.

2.3. Deep work

If you think you can devote a few hours a week reasonably regularly, you can contribute to the creation of new timelines or other deep pages. These require more upfront investment and longer stretches of time, since you are piecing together information from many diverse sources.

Of course it’s possible to transition from any sort of work to any other.

3. Financial

3.1. Budget

In 2017, I expect to spend somewhere between $5,000 and $15,000 on sponsoring health-related material, with much of it on Wikipedia. With the current pool of workers and commitments I have, I expect to spend at least $5,000, and approximately $10,000 if everything goes well. Therefore, I expect to afford to be able to spend at least $5,000 more on additional workers.

In 2016, I spent a little over $4,500 on health-related content creation. In the year, I was also sponsoring content creation in many other domains, including animal welfare and rights (a little over $2,500, much of it to Jesse Clifton for a lot of work on that on Wikipedia). Work on some of those other domains will be winding down in 2017, since I want to give higher priority to getting the health story straight first.

Also, in 2016, content creation started in earnest only in late April 2016, whereas for 2017 I have the whole year, so I expect to be able to spend more.

This essentially means that for super-casual help and sporadic chunks of work, you don’t have to worry about exhausting my funds. If you’re doing deep work, I expect to be able to fund your work fully. If it so happens that I get way more interested people than the funds I have available, that should also mean that I more quickly accomplish the global health content creation goals I had, which is a great problem to have!

3.2. Paid versus unpaid work

If you are interested in working on some of the material from the list and would like guidance and support but do not seek payment, we welcome that. However, my impression is that the act of getting paid helps set discipline and expectations. This is so even though the magnitude of payment itself may be a lot smaller than what you could make in other jobs. Therefore, please do not be shy or hesitant about receiving payment. If you feel that you don’t want the money, you can ask for the corresponding amount to be donated to a charity of your choice instead, or simply let me send you the money and donate it yourself.

If unpaid work really excites or attracts you more, you might want to consider hosting a Wikiathon like Julia Wise and Jeff Kaufman did, as described later in this post.

3.3. Co-funding

If you’re interested in co-funding some of the content creation work, please get in touch with me as well! I didn’t focus too much on co-funding because I am most excited about getting content created and can afford to spend for it in the short run. But co-funding can help further increase the credibility and the attractiveness of the work, as well as provide diverse input and increase accountability.

4. Learn more about content creation

4.1. The content creation I have sponsored and intend to sponsor

You can get a full list of all contract work sponsored by me, as well as what I’ve paid for it, here. You can see only the health-related work here, and only the global health-related work (excluding country healthcare and general health-related biology) here. You can look at our new article pool to get a list of articles we seek. To get a better sense of the onboarding process for content creators, see Issa Rice’s memo to new editors.

4.2. Content creation activities by others

You might also be interested in the Research Wikiathon conducted by Julia Wise and Jeff Kaufman, where a bunch of people got together and used my pool of articles to create content. The work they did included updating the timeline of deworming, creating the article on Privacy Impact Assessment, and doing initial research for (though not completing) the articles on the Scientific Charity Movement and food frequency questionnaire. Julia Wise wrote a document with takeaways here. The Wikiathon is also referenced in Jeff’s blog post about the Scientific Charity Movement, which was inspired by his research for the Wikipedia article.

5. License and credits

The post is released to the public domain. Linked or referenced material may be subject to its own copyright restrictions.

The post incorporates feedback from Issa Rice and Ethan Bashkansky. All errors and imperfections are my own.

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