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Doctors and Translators Are Working Together to Bridge Wikipedia's Medical Language Gap

Wikiproject Medicine

Wikiproject Medicine

Subhashish Panigrahi is a volunteer contributor for Wikipedia and has worked in the past as a community and program support consultant for Wikimedia Foundation.

Internet users from around the world often turn to Wikipedia to answer questions of all kinds. The information offered there includes medical subjects, especially important in parts of the world where access to medical professionals may be limited.

However, much of this information can be unreliable because it hasn't yet been vetted by the community — a process that is ongoing. Many articles are also only available in the most oft-spoken languages.

A group of experienced Wikipedia editors and medical professionals is trying to change that with the Medicine Translation Project, an effort to improve health care-related topics in English Wikipedia and translate them into other languages, including Hindi, Chinese, Persian, Tagalog, Indonesian and Macedonian.

Recently, the Wikimedia Foundation’s Individual Engagement Grant (IEG), a microgrant supporting work on Wikipedia-related activities, granted 10,000 US dollars to the Medicine Translation Project Community Organizing project, which aims to enhance communication and coordination among the team. 

Medical student and Wikipedian User:CFCF along with two advisors, Dr. James Heilman (User:Doc James) and Jake Orlowitz (User:Ocaasi) lead the group. We spoke to founder CFCF over email.  

Medical Translation by CFCF (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Medical translation by CFCF (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Rising Voices (RV): How did the project get started? What inspired it and how did you identify the needs it would fulfill?

CFCF: [...] The project itself started off in 2011 when Dr. James Heilman and a number of translators from Translators Without Borders: Enrique Cavalitto and Ildiko Santana teamed up in an effort to translate medical articles. Since then, the project has exploded into a larger translation forum with hundreds of translators translating articles into almost a hundred different languages.  [...]

For Wikimedia projects with a large pool of editors, we have been taking help from editors to assess what is needed, and what should be translated. On smaller projects we have simply set the goal to get anything on World Health Organization (WHO)’s list of essential medicines, as well as anything about neglected tropical diseases, also from a list by the WHO. As for these articles the project is still in an early phase, but we want to cover basically anything that might be relevant to readers, from cancer to emergency medicine.

RV: How is the process of translation going?

 A flow diagram illustrating the article flow process of the WP:MED journal collaboration and translation project. Flow of Article Creation by James Heilman, MD (CC BY-SA 3.0)

A flow diagram illustrating the article flow process of the WP:MED journal collaboration and translation project. Flow of Article Creation by James Heilman, MD (CC BY-SA 3.0)

CFCF: [...] The problem is that there are so many layers of complications in the translation process. After an article has been written and been subject to review to ensure its quality, the article needs to be prepared and proofed for translation, after which translators need to be found.  [...] Many of our translators are medical professionals and have in-depth knowledge in their native languages. On the top of it, they dedicate plenty of time on the content creation and translation. This helps to get good quality translations. What this also means is they they seldom have any knowledge of Wiki markup or Wikipedia. Someone else who knows the language in question has to go through links, templates etc. and fix them, proofread the translated content so it is up to scratch and readable.

RV: How do you address this?

CFCF: To fix all this, it is best to have a local Wikipedian who can integrate the text. Most of the work has already been done. But, getting these things right is very crucial, especially on Wikipedias with vast content, where there already is a lot of content to link in.

I think the resistance we met early in the project's life was not against translation of content. But, because we did not spend enough time getting the translated articles up to shape before sending them live on the target Wikipedia.

What we saw on the Polish Wikipedia was that much of the issues were down to how they used different templates, and after I commissioned a bot to fix this, the articles started going live very quickly. After this, more and more editors became interested in helping out [...]

RV: Are you in conversation with the Wikipedia Zero team — a mobile data project focused on Wikipedia access in the developing world — about popularising this with their partners in the developing nations? 

CFCF: Currently we are not in touch with the Wikipedia Zero team specifically, even though our works target the same communities. The difference between us and them is that we target developed countries as well as countries where there barely is any mobile connectivity at all, such as Burma where I do not know if we will be seeing Wikipedia Zero in the foreseeable future [...]

RV: What are your plans to engage with the larger Wikimedia communities that are multilingual and totally diverse? 

CFCF: We aim to get high quality content in as many languages as we can. It is difficult to translate such deeply technical content, so we are really looking for professional translators, or individuals with some form of medical background so that information loss and corruption of content in translation is minimal.We recruit translators either off-wiki, or on the medical WikiProjects. We are still looking for translators who feel they are comfortable with such topics, and we especially need them in smaller languages. We are also searching them at Babylon on Meta Wiki.

WikiProject Med Foundation was the first attempt to get a truly global organization of medical Wikipedia editors. Most medical professionals are fluent in English, and we really try to engage in discussion in other languages when we can, so I think there is a real benefit in creating a global community for medical editors.

We are not large enough yet that we have all the relevant people on English Wikipedia, and we will probably never be because there are always specialists in other countries with very specific knowledge that we can leverage. That makes international collaboration really great.

As for the local language integrators, the idea is to have editors who are willing help out and be an intermediary between that community and our translator community. We have a page where all our finished translations are added. An integrator would patrol that page on a regular basis, inform the respective language Wikipedia that the new translation is ready. The language Wikipedia’s reader community share feedback on the translation quality and suggest for improvement. For us, it is really easy to just add articles without going through them thoroughly. But, that would not work at all. For things to work, we need someone who both knows Wiki markup and the target language so that the integration can go smoothly.

 To stay up to date, follow the project's grant page.

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