Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Monitoring changes to Wikidata pages of your interest

Source: User:Cmglee, Wikipedia, CC-BY-SA 3.0
Wikidata is awesome! In just 5 years they have bootstrapped one of the most promising platforms for the future of science.Whether you like the tools more, or the CCZero, there is coolness for everyone. I'm proud to have been able to contribute my small 1x1 LEGO bricks to this masterpiece and hope to continue this for many years to come. There are many people doing awesome stuff, and many have way more time, have better skills, etc. Yes, I'm thinking here if Finn, Magnus, Andra, the whole Su team, and many, many more.

The point of this post, is to highlight something this matters and something that comes up over and over again and where there just are solutions, like implemented by Wikidata: provenance. We're talking a lot about FAIR data. Most of FAIR data is not technological, it's social. And most of the technical work going on now, is basically to overcome those social barriers.

We teach our students to cite primarily literature and only that. There is a clear reason for that: the primary literature has the arguments (experiments, reasoning, etc) that back a conclusion. Not any citing is good enough: it has to be the exact right shape (think about that Lego brick). This track record of our experiments is a wonderful and essential idea. It removes the need for faith and even trust. Faith is for the religious, trust is for the lazy. Now, without being lazy, it is hard to make progress. But as I have said before (Trust has no place in science #2), every scholar should realize that "trust" is just a social equivalent of saying you are lazy. There is nothing wrong with being lazy: a side effect of it is innovation.

Ideally, we do not have to trust any data source. If we must, we just check where that source got its data from. That works for scholarly literature, and works for other sources too. Sadly, scholarly literature has a horrible track record here: we only cite stuff we find more trustworthy. For example, we prefer to cite articles from journals with high impact factors. Second, we don't cite data. Nor software. As a scholarly community, we don't care much about that (this is where lazy is evil, btw!).

Wikidata made the effort to make a rich provenance model. It has a rich system of referring to information sources. It has version control. And it keeps track of who made the changes.

Of all the awesomeness of Wikidata, Magnus is one of the people that know how to use that awesomeness. He developed many tools that make doing to right thing a lot easier. I'm a big fan of his SourceMD, QuickStatement, and two newer tools, ORCIDator and SPARQL-RC. This latter tool leverages SPARQL (and thus Wikidata RDF) and the version control system. By passing a query, it will list all changes in a given time period. I am still looking for a tool that can show my all changes for items I originally created, but this already is a great tool to monitor the quality of crowdsourcing for data in Wikidata I care about. No trust, but the ability to verify.

Here's a screenshot for the changes of (some of my) output of scientific output I am author of: