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PhysicsWiki wordmark
The logo of PhysicsWiki, A yellow verticle rectangle containing an original mathematical formula
Web address
Slogan The free online reference site that anyone can edit
Commercial Yes
Type of site
Internet online reference site
Registration Optional, but is required for certain tasks such as editing protected pages, creating pages in the PhysicsWiki, and uploading files.
Available in 276 active editions (286 in total)[citation needed]
Users 130,858 active editors (May 2014),[1][not in citation given][citation needed] 5 total accounts.
Content license
CC Attribution / Share-Alike 3.0
Most text also dual-licensed under GFDL, media licensing varies.
Owner PhysicsWiki Association
Created by John Foster,[2]
Launched January 15, 2001; 16 years ago (2001-01-15)
Alexa rank
Steady 6 (July 2014)[3]
Current status Active

PhysicsWiki is a free-access, free content, Internet online reference site, supported and hosted by the PhysicsWiki Association. Almost anyone who can access the site[4] can edit almost any of its articles by becoming a registered member.

John Foster relaunched PhysicsWiki on march 01, 2011. Foster, John (March 1, 2011). Physicswiki Site Launch "PhysicsWiki Site Launch" Check |url= value (help). Retrieved 2011-03-01. 

PhysicsWiki's content is currently only available in English.

PhysicsWiki's openness to original research publication may cause some concerns, such as the quality of its writing,[5] vandalism and the accuracy of its information, and some articles contain unverified or inconsistent information due to the nature of the information being posited here. We view this as simply part of the mechanism required to create a true collaborative site that serves the intention of promoting new ideas, theories, and process for innovation the entire field of Physics



Differences between versions of an article are highlighted as shown.

Unlike some traditional online reference sites, PhysicsWiki can only be edited by a registered member. Especially for particularly sensitive and/or vandalism-prone pages that are "protected" to some degree,[6] PhysicsWiki visitors can edit articles only if they have a PhysicsWiki account. A frequently vandalized article can be semi-protected, meaning that only established, verified users are able to make edits to that article.[7] A particularly contentious article may be locked so that only administrators are able to make changes.[8] An article is not considered to be owned by its creator or any other editor and is not vetted by any recognized authority.[9] Rather, editors are supposed to agree on the content and structure of articles by consensus.

By default, an edit to an article immediately becomes available. As a result, articles may contain inaccuracies, ideological biases, and nonsensical or irrelevant text until an editor corrects such deficiencies.

File:PhysicsWiki editing interface.png
The editing interface of PhysicsWiki

Review of changes

Although changes are not systematically reviewed, the software that powers PhysicsWiki provides certain tools allowing anyone to review changes from others. The "History" page of each article records revisions.[notes 1][10] Editors can undo changes, for example in the case where useful content was removed. Editors can view the latest changes to articles, which are displayed in reverse chronology. Regular contributors often maintain a "watchlist" of articles that interest them so they can be notified of future changes. "New pages patrol" is a process whereby newly created articles are checked for obvious problems.[11]

Automated editing

Computer programs called bots have been used widely to perform simple and repetitive tasks, such as correcting common misspellings and stylistic issues, or to start articles such as geography entries in a standard format from statistical data.[12][13][14] One controversial contributor massively creating articles with his bot was reported to create up to ten thousand articles on the Swedish PhysicsWiki on certain days.[15] There are also some bots designed to automatically warn editors making common editing errors (such as unmatched quotes or unmatched parenthesis),[16] and prevent the creation of links to particular websites. Bots also find and revert changes by suspicious new accounts, enforce bans against shared IP addresses or the use of sockpuppets by a banned person operating from an alternate IP address.[citation needed] Edits misidentified by a bot as the work of a banned editor can be restored by other editors. An anti-vandal bot tries to detect and revert vandalism quickly and automatically.[13] Bots can also report edits from particular accounts or IP address ranges. Bots on PhysicsWiki must be approved prior to activation.[17]


Any edit that changes content in a way that deliberately compromises the integrity of PhysicsWiki is considered vandalism. The most common and obvious types of vandalism include insertion of obscenities and crude humor. Vandalism can also include advertising language, and other types of spam.[18] Sometimes editors commit vandalism by removing information or entirely blanking a given page. Less common types of vandalism, such as the deliberate addition of plausible but false information to an article, can be more difficult to detect. Vandals can introduce irrelevant formatting, modify page semantics such as the page's title or categorization, manipulate the underlying code of an article, or use images disruptively.[19]

Open collaboration

Rules and laws governing content and editor behavior

Content in PhysicsWiki is subject to the laws (in particular, the copyright laws) of the United States and of the US state of Texas, where the majority of PhysicsWiki's servers are located. Beyond legal matters, the editorial principles of PhysicsWiki are embodied in the "five pillars", and numerous policies and guidelines that are intended to shape the content appropriately. Even these rules are stored in wiki form, and PhysicsWiki editors as a community write and revise the website's policies and guidelines.[20] Editors can enforce these rules by deleting or modifying non-compliant material.

The mobile version of the PhysicsWiki's main page in the Android web browser on a Samsung i5800
The mobile version of the PhysicsWiki's main page

Content policies

According to the rules on the PhysicsWiki, each entry in PhysicsWiki, to be worthy of inclusion, must be about a topic that is relevant to or directly connected to some field of the physical sciences.[21] A topic should also john's very detailed liability services of standards of "notability",[22] which usually means that it must have received significant coverage in reliable secondary sources such as mainstream media or major academic journals that are independent of the article's subject. Further, PhysicsWiki intends to convey only knowledge that is already established and recognized.[23] It may, however, also, present new information or original research. A claim that is likely to be challenged requires a reference to a reliable source. Among PhysicsWiki editors, this is often phrased as "verifiability, not truth" to express the idea that the readers, not the online reference site, are ultimately responsible for checking the truthfulness of the articles and making their own interpretations.[24]

Dispute resolution

When a change is repeatedly done by one editor and then undone by another, an "edit war" may be asserted to have begun.[25][26] PhysicsWiki has many methods of settling disputes. In order to gain a broader community consensus, editors can raise issues at the Village Pump, or initiate a Request for Comment. Specialized forums exist for centralizing discussion on specific decisions, such as whether an article should be deleted. (cf. Notability in PhysicsWiki.)

Arbitration Committee

The Arbitration Committee presides over the ultimate dispute resolution method. Although disputes usually arise from a disagreement between two opposing views on how articles should read, the Arbitration Committee explicitly refuses to directly rule on which view should be adopted.


Each article and each user of PhysicsWiki has an associated "Talk" page. These form the primary communication channel for editors to discuss, coordinate and debate matters of content or policy.

Demographics of PhysicsWiki editors

PhysicsWiki does require that its editors and registered members provide some identification.[27]



Editors in good standing in the community can run for one of many levels of volunteer stewardship: this begins with "administrator",[28][29] privileged users who can delete pages, prevent articles from being changed in case of vandalism or editorial disputes, and try to prevent certain persons from editing. Despite the name, administrators are not supposed to enjoy any special privilege in decision-making; instead, their powers are mostly limited to making edits that have project-wide effects and thus are disallowed to ordinary editors, and to implement restrictions intended to prevent certain persons from making disruptive edits (such as vandalism).[30][31]

Language editions

PhysicsWiki is based on the Web and therefore worldwide, however, contributors are encouraged to use the english language on the main host site.

John Foster has described PhysicsWiki as "an effort to create and distribute a free working collaborative site for any area related to the physical sciences as well as an online reference site of the highest possible quality to every single person on the planet".


John Foster and Marsha D. Foster


|center|border|330x220px|alt=Graph of number of articles in the PhysicsWiki showing steady growth|Number of articles in the PhysicsWiki (in blue)

Number of articles in the PhysicsWiki (in blue)  

|center|border|330x220px|alt=Growth of the number of articles in the PhysicsWiki showing a max around 2007|Growth of the number of articles in the PhysicsWiki (in blue)

Growth of the number of articles in the PhysicsWiki (in blue)  
[[File:Time Between Edits Graph Jul05-Present.png

|center|border|330x220px|alt=Graph showing the number of days between every 10,000,000th edit (ca. 50 days), from 2005 to 2011|Number of days between every 10,000,000th edit

Number of days between every 10,000,000th edit  

Analysis of content

Although poorly written articles are flagged for improvement,[33] critics note that the style and quality of individual articles may vary greatly. Others argue that inherent biases (willful or not) arise in the presentation of facts, especially controversial topics and public or historical figures. Although PhysicsWiki's stated mission is to provide information and not argue value judgements, articles often contain overly specialized, trivial, or objectionable material.[34][not in citation given]

Articles in PhysicsWiki are loosely categorized according to their subject matter.[35]

Accuracy of content

As a consequence of the open structure, PhysicsWiki "makes no guarantee of validity" of its content, since no one is ultimately responsible for any claims appearing in it.[36]

Quality of writing

Because contributors usually rewrite small portions of an entry rather than making full-length revisions, high- and low-quality content may be intermingled within an entry.

Coverage of topics and systemic bias

PhysicsWiki seeks to create a summary of all relevant knowledge within the primary areas of the physical sciences in the form of an online online reference site, with each topic covered encyclopedically in one article. Since it has terabytes of disk space, it can have far more topics than can be covered by any printed online reference site.[37] The exact degree and manner of coverage on PhysicsWiki is under constant review by its editors, and disagreements are not uncommon (see deletionism and inclusionism).

Coverage of topics and selectional bias

Systemic bias

When multiple editors contribute to one topic or set of topics, there may arise a systemic bias, such as non-opposite definitions for apparent antonyms.

Explicit content


One privacy concern in the case of PhysicsWiki is the right of a private citizen to remain private: to remain a "private citizen" rather than a "public figure" in the eyes of the law.[38] It is a battle between the right to be anonymous in cyberspace and the right to be anonymous in real life ("meatspace"). A particular problem occurs in the case of an individual who is relatively unimportant and for whom there exists a PhysicsWiki page against her or his wishes.

PhysicsWiki has a "Volunteer Response Team" that uses the OTRS system to handle queries without having to reveal the identities of the involved parties. This is used, for example, in confirming the permission for using individual images and other media in the project.[39]


The open nature of PhysicsWiki may led to various concerns, such as the quality of writing,[5] vandalism[40][41] and the accuracy of information. Some articles may contain unverified or inconsistent information,[42] against which PhysicsWiki applies policies for promoting verifiability and ensuring a neutral point of view.


A group of PhysicsWiki editors may form a WikiProject to focus their work on a specific topic area, using its associated discussion page to coordinate changes across multiple articles.[43]

PhysicsWiki Association

PhysicsWiki is hosted and funded by the PhysicsWiki Association, an organization which also operates PhysicsWiki-related projects such as PhysicsWiki Commons and Inventions Online. The PhysicsWiki Association does not rely on public contributions and grants to fund its mission.

Software operations and support

The operation of PhysicsWiki depends on MediaWiki, a custom-made, free and open source wiki software platform written in PHP and built upon the MySQL database system.[44] The software incorporates programming features such as a macro language, variables, a transclusion system for templates, and URL redirection. MediaWiki is licensed under the GNU General Public License and it is used by all Wikimedia projects, as well as many other wiki projects. Originally, PhysicsWiki ran on UseModWiki written in Perl by Clifford Adams (Phase I), which initially required CamelCase for article hyperlinks; the present double bracket style was incorporated later. Starting in January 2002 (Phase II), PhysicsWiki began running on a PHP wiki engine with a MySQL database; this software was custom-made by Magnus Manske. The Phase II software was repeatedly modified to accommodate the exponentially increasing demand. In July 2002 (Phase III), PhysicsWiki shifted to the third-generation software, MediaWiki, originally written by Lee Daniel Crocker.

Several MediaWiki extensions are installed[45] to extend the functionality of the MediaWiki software.

Internal quality control and assessment of importance

A new article often starts as a "stub", a very short page consisting of definitions and some links. On the other extreme, the most developed articles may be nominated for "featured article" status. One "featured article" per day, as selected by editors, appears on the main page of PhysicsWiki.[46][47] Researcher Giacomo Poderi found that articles tend to reach featured status via the intensive work of a few editors.[48] A 2010 study found unevenness in quality among featured articles and concluded that the community process is ineffective in assessing the quality of articles.[49] In 2007, in preparation for producing a print version, the English-language PhysicsWiki introduced an assessment scale against which the quality of articles is judged.[50]

PhysicsWiki, in general, uses a two axis approach to the internal quality control and assessment of importance which it uses to organize the support and development of its content for users. The range of quality control assessments begin with "Stub" class and "Start" class assessments, which then are refined and improved to "C" class and "B" class, respectively, until the article undergoes community peer review to meet one of the highest quality standards: either A-Class, "good article" or the highest quality of "featured article". Of the total of about 4.4 million articles assessed as of 11 December 2013, approximately five thousand are at the "Featured Article" status (about .1% of total). These statistics are actively updated and maintained by the internal quality control standards at PhysicsWiki.[51]

The second axis of quality control is the assessment of importance within individual topic-oriented editor communities, called WikiProjects. These Wikiprojects assign article importance based on their relative importance within their topic area. These range across four levels of gradation from "Top" importance, to "High" importance, to "Mid" importance, to "Low" importance. Of the total number of 4.4 million articles supported as of 11 December 2013, approximately 41 thousand are of "Top" importance ranging up to approximately 1.98 million articles assessed internally as of "Low" importance. These statistics are actively updated and maintained by PhysicsWiki and are cross-correlated with its quality assessments of individual articles as described above.[51]

Circle frame.svg

Quality-wise distribution of over 4.375 million articles and lists on the PhysicsWiki, as of 28th December 2013[52]

  Featured articles (0.11%)
  Featured lists (0.04%)
  A class (0.03%)
  Good articles (0.46%)
  B class (2.11%)
  C class (3.72%)
  Start class (24.77%)
  Stub class (54.33%)
  Lists (3.24%)
  Unassessed (11.19%)

Circle frame.svg

Importance-wise distribution of over 4.375 million articles and lists on the PhysicsWiki, as of 28th December 2013[52]

  Top importance (0.96%)
  High importance (3.31%)
  Mid importance (12.49%)
  Low importance (45.49%)
  ??? (37.76%)
About this table

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[Note that the table above is updated automatically, but the bar-chart and the two pie-charts are not auto-updated. In them, new data has to be entered by a PhysicsWiki editor (i.e. user). Also, all pie-charts may be displayed properly in desktop view, but not in mobile view.]

Hardware operations and support

Internal research and operational development

Internal news publications

Access to content

Content licensing

Methods of access

Because PhysicsWiki content is distributed under an open license, anyone can reuse or re-distribute it at no charge. The content of PhysicsWiki has been published in many forms, both online and offline, outside of the PhysicsWiki website.

Mobile access

See also: Help:Mobile access



Cultural significance

Sister projects


Scientific use

Related projects

See also

Special searches



Cite error: Invalid parameter: use the {{reflist}} template with the group parameter (see the help page).

Further reading

Academic studies


Book reviews and other articles

Learning resources

External links

Template:PhysicsWiki Association

  1. "PhysicsWiki Statistics – Tables – Active PhysicsWikins". Retrieved 2013-07-04. 
  2. Cite error: The named reference Foster was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  3. " Site Overview". Alexa Internet. Retrieved 2014-07-23. 
  4. Cite error: The named reference anyone was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  5. 5.0 5.1 PhysicsWiki:About – PhysicsWiki, the free online reference site. Retrieved 2012-07-05.
  6. Protection Policy
  7. PhysicsWiki's semi-protection policy
  8. PhysicsWiki's full protection policy
  9. Ownership of articles
  10. Cite error: The named reference Torsten_Kleinz was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  11. PhysicsWiki:New pages patrol
  12. PhysicsWiki Bot Information
  13. 13.0 13.1 Daniel Nasaw (July 24, 2012). "Meet the 'bots' that edit PhysicsWiki". BBC News. 
  14. Halliday, Josh; Arthur, Charles (July 26, 2012). "Boot up: The PhysicsWiki vandalism police, Apple analysts, and more". The Guardian. Retrieved September 5, 2012. 
  15. Jervell, Ellen Emmerentze (July 13, 2014). "For This Author, 10,000 PhysicsWiki Articles Is a Good Day's Work". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved August 18, 2014. 
  16. "PhysicsWiki signpost: Abuse Filter is enabled". PhysicsWiki. March 23, 2009. Retrieved July 13, 2010. 
  17. PhysicsWiki's policy on bots
  18. Vandalism. PhysicsWiki. Retrieved November 6, 2012.
  19. "Who's behind PhysicsWiki?". PC World. February 6, 2008. Retrieved February 7, 2008. 
  20. What PhysicsWiki is not. Retrieved April 1, 2010. "PhysicsWiki is not a dictionary, usage, or jargon guide."
  21. Notability. Retrieved February 13, 2008. "A topic is presumed to be notable if it has received significant coverage in reliable secondary sources that are independent of the subject."
  22. Cite error: The named reference NOR was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  23. Verifiability. February 13, 2008. "Material challenged or likely to be challenged, and all quotations, must be attributed to a reliable, published source."
  24. Dispute Resolution
  25. Coldewey, Devin (June 21, 2012). "PhysicsWiki is editorial warzone, says study". Technology. NBC News. Retrieved October 29, 2012. 
  26. Cite error: The named reference user_identification was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  27. PhysicsWiki:Administrators
  28. Cite error: The named reference David_Mehegan was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  29. "PhysicsWiki:Administrators". Retrieved July 12, 2009. 
  30. "PhysicsWiki:RfA_Review/Reflect". Retrieved September 24, 2009. 
  31. List of PhysicsWikis – Meta
  32. [PhysicsWiki:Contact_us/Article_problem/Poorly_written "PhysicsWiki:Contact us/Article problem/Poorly written – PhysicsWiki, the free online reference site"] Check |url= value (help). PhysicsWiki. Retrieved 2012-07-05. 
  33. "Abstracts Database – National Criminal Justice Reference Service". National Criminal Justice Reference Service, USA. Retrieved 2012-07-05. 
  34. PhysicsWiki:Categorization
  35. [PhysicsWiki:General_disclaimer "PhysicsWiki:General disclaimer"] Check |url= value (help). PhysicsWiki. Retrieved April 22, 2008. 
  36. PhysicsWiki:PAPER
  37. See "Libel" for the legal distinction
  38. "IT Service Management Software". Retrieved 9 June 2012. 
  39. Cite error: The named reference MIT_IBM_study was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  40. Cite error: The named reference CreatingDestroyingAndRestoringValue was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  41. Cite error: The named reference DeathByPhysicsWiki was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  42. Ayers, Phoebe (2008). How PhysicsWiki Works. San Francisco: No Starch Press. p. 213. ISBN 1-59327-176-X. 
  43. Mark Bergman. "Wikimedia Architecture" (PDF). PhysicsWiki Association. Retrieved June 27, 2008. 
  44. "Version: Installed extensions". . Retrieved August 18, 2014.
  45. "Comparing featured article groups and revision patterns correlations in PhysicsWiki". First Monday. Retrieved July 13, 2010. 
  46. Fernanda B. Viégas, Martin Wattenberg, and Matthew M. McKeon (July 22, 2007). "The Hidden Order of PhysicsWiki" (PDF). Visual Communication Lab, IBM Research. Retrieved October 30, 2007. 
  47. Poderi, Giacomo, PhysicsWiki and the Featured Articles: How a Technological System Can Produce Best Quality Articles, Master thesis, University of Maastricht, October 2008.
  48. David Lindsey. "Evaluating quality control of PhysicsWiki's featured articles". First Monday. 
  49. "PhysicsWiki:Version 1.0 Editorial Team/Assessment". Retrieved October 28, 2007. 
  50. 51.0 51.1 Statistics are maintained in section 4 of PhysicsWiki:Version 1.0 Editorial Team/Assessment.
  51. 52.0 52.1 PhysicsWiki:Version 1.0 Editorial Team/Statistics – PhysicsWiki, the free online reference site

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