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The Wikipedia Polymer Partnership

Michael Hess, Department of Physics, University of North Texas, Denton, Texas, USA

1Why do scientists look to IUPAC for correct terminology on-line?

We have arrived in an ‘information society’ where fast and reliable information is essential. Reliability and quality, however, is granted by proven expertise, independence and a tradition that stands for this quality. Doubtlessly, IUPAC is an independent, non-governmental, non-profit organization, which in the year 2019 can look back at a successful history of 100 years during which objective, reliable definitions, information, common language in the field of chemistry in general have been provided by IUPAC’s international teams. Electronic data processing and fast internet have now provided an universal, fast access to information. Things are coming together.

For many years the output of IUPAC’s work in chemical nomenclature and terminology – the ‘chemical language’ – was distributed by printed media, mainly through Pure and Applied Chemistry and books, such as the famous ‘colour book’: the gold book (Compendium of chemical terminology) [1], the blue book (Nomenclature of organic chemistry) [2], the red book (Nomenclature of inorganic chemistry) [3], the green book (Quantities, units, and symbols in physical chemistry) [4], the orange book (Compendium of analytical nomenclature) [5], the silver book (Compendium of terminology and nomenclature of properties in clinical laboratory sciences) [6], the white book (The biochemical nomenclature and related documents) [7] and, last not least ‘the bible’ of polymer scientists, the purple book (Compendium of polymer terminology and nomenclature) [8]. There is also a very useful summary in the Principles of chemical nomenclature [9] or A brief guide to polymer nomenclature [10] and A brief guide to the nomenclature of inorganic chemistry [11]. These books/guides are updated on a more or less regular basis, and many of them are on-line accessible.

However, these publications are commonly known mostly to chemists, and some knowledge about chemistry is required to find the way through the maze of information to find the information one is looking for, e.g. the definition of a term,  proper naming or the structure corresponding to a name.

2Why does IUPAC partner with Wikipedia?

Now, the internet provides an excellent and fast way to all kind of information. In particular popular here is Wikipedia. While the IUPAC definitions are strictly formalized, restricted to the absolute necessary (with a few notes where required, formulae and occasional graphics) Wikipedia provides longer texts with educative character containing background information, historical and often even etymological information. Wikipedia does not just give formally ‘dry’ definitions, there are also many links, references, pictures, even videos, quite an attractive way to distribute information even to laymen, freshmen, high school students, etc. Someone looking for a definition in the internet will almost certainly end up at Wikipedia to find the first end of a red thread to information. All this makes Wikipedia a very attractive and popular source of information. Wikipedia is very fast, for example, in up-dating the numerical values of natural constants, such as Planck’s constant or Avogadro’s constant from CODATA (Committee on Data for Science and Technology, Paris) and its Task Group on Fundamental Constants (TGFC) and from NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology, US).

However, Wikipedia is an open source system, and basically everyone, who is registered, can place an article there, so the question of accuracy and reliability of the information arises. The Wikipedia articles are usually not static, they may undergo frequent editorial modifications, corrections, updates etc. by the community. This auto-corrective mechanism run by specialists in the community on one side has the great advantage of self-optimising. It is a living system always under critical observation. However, on the other hand it can be misused by malevolent people or groups, and even vandalism can occur. There are ways to deal with that.

Consequently, the idea came up in the IUPAC Division IV (Polymer Division), to somehow combine Wikipedia entries related to polymer chemistry and physics with the approved and published IUPAC definitions, so that the fast access to a term by the Wikipedia system is combined with the IUPAC approved and therefore reliable definition. In the first place this can be done when there are Wikipedia entries and corresponding IUPAC definitions. In cases where there are no Wikipedia entries, authors from IUPAC are asked to provide new Wikipedia entries.

3How does the partnership work?

There are also Wikipedia entries, which are classified as ‘stubs’. These are very short articles that require some extension and more scientific input. This is a field where the specialists of the IUPAC can certainly be useful in completing these entries.

There was an IUPAC project 2011-013-2-400 (orientational phase) with an extension 2015-032-2-400. In this first, orientational phase, one basic document on polymer terminology published by the Polymer Division was chosen, namely the Glossary of basic terms in polymer science [12] and the terms defined there counter checked with Wikipedia entries. Then, a box (as a so-called ‘transclusion’) was created that contains the exact wording of the IUPAC definition together with an active link to original publication, and this box was placed on the top right of the corresponding Wikipedia website as shown in the example below.

In this way, despite whatever is written in the Wikipedia text, the reader finds the formal, IUPAC – approved definition. The IUPAC definition by no means overrules what is written by the Wikipedia authors, it simple gives the IUPAC information, so that the reader can make his/her own judgement. The IUPAC box comes just as an additional, though authorized, information. This idea has generally been accepted by the Wikipedia community as helpful support.

4How can the value of this partnership be measured?

There is another important advantage provided by Wikipedia, that is the page statistics. The scientific community counts the effect of a scientific publication for example by the citation index (SCI). Common scientific papers quote all their sources, however, almost nobody quotes having used proper IUPAC nomenclature from the IUPAC document ‘Nomenclature of regular single strand organic polymers’ [13], for example, or that the definitions used were in accordance with the IUPAC recommendation for the use of approved ‘terminology of thermal and thermomechanical properties of polymers’ [14]. Now, there is a way to get an idea of at least how many users have noticed the IUPAC definition boxes:

The statistics of any Wikipedia webpage can be called up through the Page Analysis tool by replacing the title of the entry by the page one wants to have analyzed.

The screenshot of the monthly statistic of the Wikipedia entry ‘dispersity’ dating from 21.12.2017 is shown below and the number of clicks on this website during a certain period of time is graphically displayed. Those who have visited the website should have noticed the IUPAC contribution. These statistics become even more meaningful if the Wikipedia entry has been completely authored by an IUPAC member.

Meanwhile even smart speakers, etc. are able to find the IUPAC definitions due to the new internet presence of the IUPAC definitions.


5How are the IUPAC-approved definitions developed?

Some words are required about the process of creation of an IUPAC-approved definition. This is a complicated, lengthy process, involving somehow the entire scientific community, as shown below.

The working parties (WPs) are multinational assemblies of specialists from the IUPAC Polymer Division and can also contain specialists from outside. After discussion and preparation of many drafts the final document is produced in an approximation process in (American) English, approved first by the working party, then by the corresponding Subcommittee. Needless to say, the language is checked by a native English speaker. Due to the international composition of a WP different points of view that might be caused by possible geographical/cultural reasons can be eliminated. After approval of the final version of the draft document within the Division, the Division President forwards the draft to ICTNS (Interdivisional Commission for Terminology, Nomenclature and Symbols) and public review. ICTNS checks for general consistency with formal requirements and other IUPAC publications. After discussion of the feedback from ITCNS and the scientific community, consideration of possible changes in close connection with referees and commentators, the final version is then approved and published by Pure and Applied Chemistry. Only definitions that have passed this procedure are finally used for the IUPAC information box in a Wikipedia document.

The IUPAC documents published after this rigorous process enjoy a worldwide acceptance and appreciation by the scientific community, academia and industry, and are frequently used as basic authority for information in patent cases, in journalism, schools etc. Combining this approved scientific quality with the easy accessibility and popularity of Wikipedia has turned out to be a benefit for both, Wikipedia and IUPAC.


  1. IUPAC Compendium of Chemical Terminology, Gold Book, Version 2.3.3, IUPAC (2014). - https://goldbook.iupac.org/
  2. IUPAC Nomenclature of Organic Chemistry searchable website. - https://acdlabs.com/iupac/nomenclature
  3. Connelly, N. G., Damhuis, T., Hartshorn, R. M., Hutton, A. T. “Nomenclature of Inorganic Chemistry, IUPAC Recommendations 2005”. IUPAC & RSC Publishing, Cambridge (2005) . - https://iupac.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Red_Book_2005.pdf
  4. Cohen, E.R., Cvitas, T., Frey, J. G., Holmström, B., Kuchitsu, K., Marquardt, R., Mills, I., Pavese, F., Quack, M., Stohner, J., Strauss, H. L., Takami, M. Thor, A. J. "Quantities, Units and Symbols in Physical Chemistry", IUPAC Green Book, 3rd Edition, 2nd Printing, IUPAC & RSC Publishing, Cambridge (2008). - https://iupac.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Green-Book-PDF-Version-2011.pdf
  5. Inczédy, J., Lengyel, T., Ure, A. “Compendium of Analytical Nomenclature”. IUPAC (1997). - https://media.iupac.org/publications/analytical_compendium
  6. iupac.org/project/2007-033-3-700 ; Ferard, G., Dybkaer, R., Fuentes-Arderiu, X. “Compendium of Terminology and Nomenclature of Properties in Clinical Laboratory Sciences: Recommendations 2016”. IUPAC & RSC, Cambridge (2017). - https://doi.org/10.1039/9781782622451
  7. “Biochemical Nomenclature and Related Documents, 2nd edition”, ed. C. Liébecq, Portland Press [ISBN 1-85578-005-4] (1992). - https://www.sbcs.qmul.ac.uk/iupac/bibliog/white.html
  8. Jones, R. G., Kahovec, J., Stepto, R. F. T., Wilks, E. S., Hess, M., Kitayama, T., Metanomski, W. V. “Compendium of Polymer Terminology and Nomenclature, IUPAC Recommendations 2008”, IUPAC & RSC, Cambridge (2008). - https://iupac.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/ONLINE-IUPAC-PB2-Online-June2014.pdf
  9. Leigh, G.J.; Favre, H.A. and Metanomski, W.V. “Principles of Chemical Nomenclature – A Guide to IUPAC Recommendations”. Blackwell Science, 1998 [ISBN 0-86542-6856]. - https://old.iupac.org/publications/books/author/leigh98.html
  10. Hiorns, R. C., Boucher, R. J., Hellwich, K-H., Hodge, P., Jenkins, A. D., Jones, R. G., Kahovec, J., Moad, G., Ober, C., Smith, D. W., Stepto, R. F. T. A brief guide to polymer nomenclature (IUPAC Technical Report), Pure Applied Chem. 84(10), 2012, 2167-2169. - https://doi.org/10.1351/PAC-REP-12-03-05
  11. Hartshorn, R.M., Hellwich, K.H., Yerin, A., Damhus, T., Hutton, A.T. Brief guide to the nomenclature of inorganic chemistry, Pure Applied Chem. 87(9-10), 2015, 1039-1049. - https://doi.org/10.1515/pac-2014-0718
  12. Jenkins, A.D., Kratochvil, P., Stepto, R. F. T., Suter, U. Glossary of basic terms in polymer science (IUPAC Recommendations 1996), Pure Appl. Chem. 68 (12), 1996, 2287-2311 . - https://doi.org/10.1351/pac199668122287
  13. Kahovec, J., Fox, R. B., Hatada, K. Nomenclature of regular single-strand organic polymers (IUPAC Recommendations 2002), Pure Applied Chem. 74, 2002, 1921-1956. - https://doi.org/10.1351/pac200274101921
  14. Hess, M., Allegra, G., He, J., Horie, K., Kim, J.-S., Meille, S. V., Metanomski, V., Moad, G., Stepto, R. F. T., Vert, M., Vohlidal, J. Glossary of terms relating to thermal and thermomechanical properties of polymers (IUPAC Recommendations 2013), Pure Applied Chem. 85(5), 2013, 1017-1047. - https://doi.org/10.1351/PAC-REC-12-03-02


Hess, M. (10 March 2018) "The Wikipedia Polymer Partnership" IUPAC 100 Stories. Retrieved from https://iupac.org/100/stories/wikipedia-polymer-partnership/. (Accessed: day month year)

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