Innovation scholar to present Carleton Convocation

February 12, 2019
By Leander Cohen '22

Neil Thompson, an innovation  and computer science scholar at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), will deliver Carleton’s weekly convocation address on Friday, Feb. 22, from 10:50-11:50 a.m. in the Skinner Memorial Chapel. In his presentation , “Science Is Shaped by Wikipedia: Evidence from a Randomized Control Trial,” Thompson will discuss Wikipedia’s impact on the state of scientific knowledge.

Carleton convocations are free and open to the public. They also are recorded and archived for online viewing.

Founded in 2001 and now considered  the largest encyclopedia in the world, Wikipedia has had an enormous effect on how we consume knowledge in the digital age. Wikipedia is one of the most accessed websites in the world and is used frequently by scientists, suggesting that it also has the potential to actually shape scientific study.

In 2017, Thompson conducted a study on the role of Wikipedia in the scientific world, commissioning graduate students to write Wikipedia articles on scientific topics missing from the site. After randomly uploading half of the articles and holding another half back, Thompson found that researchers writing scientific literature were much more likely to use the words from the uploaded articles than the held-back ones—showing that Wikipedia helps to shape science.

Thompson currently serves as a visiting professor at the Laboratory for Innovation Science at Harvard and a research scientist at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Along with his most recent work on Wikipedia, his research primarily covers how innovation happens and what its effects are, including how businesses race to create and patent their innovations.

Prior to his work in academia, Thompson worked at organizations such as the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Bain and Company, the United Nations, the World Bank, and the Canadian Parliament. He received his PhD in business  and public policy from the University of California-Berkeley, where he also received master’s  degrees in computer science and statistics.

 This event is sponsored by Carleton College Convocations. For more information, including disability accommodations, call (507) 222-4309. The Skinner Memorial Chapel is located at First and College Streets in Northfield