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By James Heilman
This op-ed was originally published on February 25, 2015.
The views expressed in these op-eds are those of the authors only; responses and critical commentary are invited in the comments section. Editors wishing to submit their own op-ed should email the Signpost's editor.
Ebola virus disease, 15:21, 25 December 2010 Between 1976 and 1998, from 30,000 mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and arthropods sampled from outbreak regions, no Ebolavirus was detected apart from some genetic material found in six rodents (Mus setulosus and Praomys) and one shrew (Sylvisorex ollula) collected from the Central African Republic.[1][2] The virus was detected in the carcasses of gorillas, chimpanzees, and duikers during outbreaks in 2001 and 2003, which later became the source of human infections. However, the high mortality from infection in these species makes them unlikely as a natural reservoir.[1]

Plants, arthropods, and birds have also been considered as possible reservoirs; however, bats are considered the most likely candidate.[3] Bats were known to reside in the cotton factory in which the index cases for the 1976 and 1979 outbreaks were employed, and they have also been implicated in Marburg infections in 1975 and 1980.[1] Of 24 plant species and 19 vertebrate species experimentally inoculated with Ebolavirus, only bats became infected.[4] The absence of clinical signs in these bats is characteristic of a reservoir species. In a 2002–2003 survey of 1,030 animals which included 679 bats from Gabon and the Republic of the Congo, 13 fruit bats were found to contain Ebolavirus RNA.[5] As of 2005, three fruit bat species (Hypsignathus monstrosus, Epomops franqueti, and Myonycteris torquata) have been identified as carrying the virus while remaining asymptomatic...

Reston ebolavirus—unlike its African counterparts—is non-pathogenic in humans. The high mortality among monkeys and its recent emergence in swine, makes them unlikely natural reservoirs.[6]

Oxford Textbook of Zoonoses (2011). page 364 ...Between 1976 and 1998, various mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and arthropods from outbreak regions have been studied to determine the natural Fiolovirus reservoir. No Ebolavirus was detected apart from some genetic material found in six rodents (Mus setulosus and Praomys) and one shrew (sylvisorex ollula) collected from the Central African Republic (Peterson 2004). The virus was detected in the carcasses of gorillas, chimpanzees, and duikers during outbreaks in 2001 and 2003, which later became the source of human infections. However, the high mortality from infection in these species makes them unlikely as a natural reservoir.

Plants, arthropods, and birds have also been considered as possible reservoirs; however, bats are now considered the most likely candidate. Bats were known to reside in the cotton factory in which the Ebola index cases for the 1976 and 1979 outbreaks were employed. They have been implicated in the Marburg infections in 1975 and 1980. Of 24 plant species and 19 vertebrate species experimentally inoculated with Ebolavirus, only bats became infected (Swanepoel 1996). The absence of clinical signs in these bats is characteristic of a reservoir species. In a 2002-2003 survey of 1,030 animales, which included 679 bats from Gabon and the DRC, 13 fruit bats were found to contain Ebolavirus RNA (Pourrut 2009). As of 2005, three fruit bat species (Hypsignathus monstrosus, Epomops franqueti, and Myonycteris torquata) have been identified as carrying the virus while remaining asymptomatic...

Reston ebolavirus—unlike its African counterparts—is non-pathogenic in humans. The high mortality among monkeys and its recent emergence in pigs makes them unlikely natural reservoirs.

Last October, I came across the Oxford Textbook of Zoonoses (2011) published by Oxford University Press (OUP). I noticed that chapter 31, "Marburg and Ebola viruses", contained a fair bit of text that was nearly identical, word for word, as that in the Wikipedia article Ebola virus disease. A page from the book may be seen on Google Books, with at least the "natural reservoirs" section being nearly verbatim and some parts of the rest of the chapter containing great similarities.

Initially, I made an assumption that someone had copied and pasted from this book into Wikipedia. However, thankfully we have the ability to go back and view every version of Wikipedia that has ever existed. I could thus determine that the content in question was added to Wikipedia back in 2006 and was subsequently edited and expanded between then and 2010, when the greatest similarities occur. From this I could conclude that it was partly written by the Wikipedians ChyranandChloe and Rhys.

Next, I wondered whether one of these individuals was the author of the OUP chapter, namely, Graham Lloyd of the Special Pathogens Reference Unit at Porton Down. I contacted the user who had made the majority of the contributions, who turned out to be a virologist in Australia who assured me that while he had contributed to Wikipedia, he had never contributed to the Oxford Textbook of Zoonoses.

Finally, I looked for attribution of Wikipedia in the Oxford Textbook of Zoonoses and a release of this book under an open license as required by Wikipedia, and the result was that neither of these have been performed. The hardcover version of the Oxford Textbook of Zoonoses retails for $375. I discussed this issue with the legal team at the Wikimedia Foundation, who contacted the Oxford University Press. We were hoping that they could negotiate both attribution and release under an open license.

The reputation of Wikipedia in academia often seems to be that it is good enough for academics to use and even occasionally claim as their own work, but not good enough for either students or the “unwashed masses”. Thus I believed that convincing one of the world’s foremost medical publishers to both attribute and use an open license would be difficult. The legal team at the WMF, however, was optimistic. Initial emails from OUP indicated that this case would take longer than usual, as the people involved were “all over the world doing important Ebola work”. This, of course, is not the first time we have come across the academic literature copy and pasting from Wikipedia. In 2012, I discovered a medical textbook had also extensively copied from Wikipedia. (Also see the Signpost's 2012 special report on the misappropriation of Wikimedia content.)

At Wikipedia, we are happy to work with publishers. A year or so ago, I helped guide the company Boundless, which creates open access textbooks mostly based on Wikipedia content for first year university students, on how to appropriately attribute. These books were already released under a CC BY SA license. We attempted to work with the OUP in the same fashion.

On January 20, 2015, the OUP acknowledged that the content originated from Wikipedia and agreed to attribute Wikipedia, but were having difficulty with the open licensing. Following further inspection of the Oxford Textbook of Zoonoses , I found more inconsistencies. For example, while parts of the text were exactly the same, the author had not consistently used the same references. The references used on the Wikipedia article supported the text, but the references in the Oxford Textbook of Zoonoses that were changed did not support the text in question. The question remains as to why the references were changed. As a result of these changes, the quality of the copied content was lowered.

On February 5, 2015, I emailed the OUP offering to rewrite and update the chapter in question in collaboration with fellow Wikipedians. The next day, they replied via e-mail stating that they had already “independently decided to update the chapter and that that work [was] already in hand”. Writing a textbook chapter takes a fair length of time, likely weeks rather than a few days. Looking at the time line, it is questionable whether the OUP ever seriously intended to attribute Wikipedia. While our content passed their review processes, they claimed it was simply an “inadvertent omission of citation”. It is likely that a replacement chapter was requested immediately after the WMF legal department contacted OUP’s team.

The one good thing that has come out of all of this is that Wikipedia’s content passing a major textbook publisher review processes is some external validation of Wikipedia’s quality.

A look at the references

References

  1. ^ a b c Pourrut, X.; Kumulungui, B.; Wittmann, T.; Moussavou, G.; Délicat, A.; Yaba, P.; Nkoghe, D.; Gonzalez, J. P.; Leroy, E. M. (2005). "The natural history of Ebola virus in Africa". Microbes and infection / Institut Pasteur. 7 (7–8): 1005–1014. doi:10.1016/j.micinf.2005.04.006. PMID 16002313.
  2. ^ Morvan, J.; Deubel, V.; Gounon, P.; Nakouné, E.; Barrière, P.; Murri, S.; Perpète, O.; Selekon, B.; Coudrier, D.; Gautier-Hion, A.; Colyn, M.; Volehkov, V. (1999). "Identification of Ebola virus sequences present as RNA or DNA in organs of terrestrial small mammals of the Central African Republic". Microbes and Infection. 1 (14): 1193–1201. doi:10.1016/S1286-4579(99)00242-7. PMID 10580275.
  3. ^ "Fruit bats may carry Ebola virus". BBC News. 2005-12-11. Retrieved 2008-02-25.
  4. ^ Swanepoel, R. L.; Leman, P. A.; Burt, F. J.; Zachariades, N. A.; Braack, L. E.; Ksiazek, T. G.; Rollin, P. E.; Zaki, S. R.; Peters, C. J. (Oct 1996). "Experimental inoculation of plants and animals with Ebola virus". Emerging Infectious Diseases. 2 (4): 321–325. doi:10.3201/eid0204.960407. ISSN 1080-6040. PMC 2639914. PMID 8969248.
  5. ^ Leroy, E. M.; Kumulungui, B.; Pourrut, X.; Rouquet, P.; Hassanin, A.; Yaba, P.; Délicat, A.; Paweska, J. T.; Gonzalez, J. P.; Swanepoel, R. (2005). "Fruit bats as reservoirs of Ebola virus". Nature. 438 (7068): 575–576. Bibcode:2005Natur.438..575L. doi:10.1038/438575a. PMID 16319873.
  6. ^ Lubroth, Juan. "Ebola-Reston Virus in Pigs: Disease situation in swine in the Philippines". Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Retrieved 2009-09-27.


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