Mr Wiki: Mike Dickison is NZ's first Wikipedian at large

by North & South / 18 September, 2018

Mike Dickison in the Auckland Museum library. Photo/Ken Downie.

Mike Dickison is New Zealand’s first Wikipedian-at-Large.

Mike Dickison has a PhD in zoology, specifically on the evolution of giant flightless birds. He’s worked as an academic researcher, a teacher and, for the past four years, the curator of natural history at Whanganui Regional Museum.

A dedicated entomologist, he’s a regular on RNZ’s popular Critter of the Week. And now he’s New Zealand’s first Wikipedian-at-Large, thanks to a $61,000 grant that will see him spend the next 12 months touring the country, spreading the Wiki word. “I’ve mainly been in permanent positions,” he says, “so I’m a little apprehensive to give that up and live out of a suitcase. But I have a rough plan.”

One of 11 successful applicants worldwide in this latest funding round, Dickison will work on outreach programmes, recruit editors and increase public awareness about the site. The fifth most-visited website in the world (and the only non-profit in the top 10), Wikipedia contains some 40 million articles, in more than 300 languages. However, when Dickison first became involved as a volunteer in 2009, he discovered coverage of New Zealand topics was sparse. “It wasn’t a particular bias, we just don’t have many people editing here.”

In 2012, he formed a community group called Whanganui Wiki Wednesday that met once a month, learning to edit on local pages. From there, he began running Wiki workshops around the country – remotely and in person – on everything from threatened species to female scientists. “Science communication is a very important part of what I do.”

While anyone can edit on Wikipedia, there are very specific rules: entries must contain reliable sources, content must be freely available and licensed, and there’s no place for personal opinion or plagiarism.

Dickison has already scheduled in time at Auckland Museum, Zealandia, Otago Museum, and with Forest and Bird. A key part of his mission will be building up a base of volunteer editors. “I’m not just running training workshops,” he says. “I’m also recruiting, setting up support groups and troubleshooting, with the goal to establish actual editing communities, because it’s the editors who do all the work.”

While travelling the country, Dickison will also use the opportunity to keep up with his entomology work. “My 4WD is not only my mobile office, it’s also my entomology field station,” he says. “There are plastic bins with my entomology kit, field gear [collecting vessels, nets, pinning supplies, a portable microscope], electronics and a tent. So I can set up camp and work pretty much anywhere there’s a wifi signal.”  

To find out more about the project, see (where else?) Wikipedia.

This article was first published in the September 2018 issue of North & South.

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