Questions of scientific communications and research ethics at the Helsinki Term Bank for the Arts and Sciences


The Helsinki Term Bank for the Arts and Sciences is an online service and tool for the production and publishing of information.

The Helsinki Term Bank for the Arts and Sciences (TTP) is an online service opened in 2012, in which specialists of various fields of science publish information about the concepts and special terminology of their field: Finnish and translated equivalents of terms, definitions and explanations, illustrations and, in the future, also links to text examples. The purpose is to construct an open, continuously updated term bank for use by the scientific community and the citizens.

The term bank currently includes over 40,000 concepts and 300,000 search terms (including translations of terms). The term bank consists of 40 subject areas or fields of science or specialty, covering the field of science from human sciences to natural sciences and technology. The term bank aims at the inclusion of all fields of science practised in Finland and currently holds approximately one-third of such fields.

The Helsinki Term Bank for the Arts and Sciences is an innovative production and publishing tool, which means that the developers and administers of the term bank have also had to discuss new types of questions concerning scientific communications and research ethics. In what follows, we explain some of the solutions developed in the term bank concerning the relationship between co-writing and authorship as well as the earning of academic credits. We conclude with a summary of how the term bank applies the principles of open science.

Crowdsourcing and authorship

The term bank is based on a Semantic MediaWiki platform. Its content is gathered by means of nichesourcing, i.e., specialist groups representing specific fields of science are each responsible for entering term data of their field in the term bank. Unlike Wikipedia, the platform does not allow just anyone to modify the information. Specialists working in the term bank are also responsible for the compilation of the specialist group, organisation of work and creation of field-specific guidelines and principles.

Although the majority of work is carried out by means of niche-sourcing, the duties, responsibilities or levels of activity are usually not divided equally among the members of the specialist groups. A wiki-based work method means that the term bank is constantly under construction, or never finished. The texts require that both the readers and the authors are able to tolerate the fact that the texts may be modified constantly, unlike in traditional solutions.

Content is gathered by means of nichesourcing, i.e., specialist groups representing specific fields of science are each responsible for entering term data of their field in the term bank. 

As the concept page or the term article of the term bank may have several authors and updaters, the mediawiki platform of the term bank has been designed to support the transparency and openness of work. The history log of the concept page records all the modifications made as well as the modifiers, and an individual user can search for the modifications they have made. This allows the demonstration of the contribution and authorship of each specialist involved in the term work.

Furthermore, the evaluation of authorship requires content-based estimation: how significant is the input of a specific author? This is not just a question of scope, but also of how directly the entry is supported by existing sources. In addition, material may be entered under the name of an individual author, even though the general aim is to enter materials under the name of administration. Naturally, publication rights to the materials entered are requested, and the concept pages also contain references to sources which have been use in a more indirect way.

A discussion page opens with every concept page, allowing the use of co-authoring as a tool, but also the documentation of the writing process. Documenting the specialists participating in the discussion, the perspectives presented and discussed and the grounds for the choices made on the discussion page is recommended especially during the consideration of the definition of extensive, ambiguous concepts.

As the contents are modifiable, the term bank mainly uses a Creative Commons licence (Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 specifies the licence in such a way that the contents may even be utilised commercially, if the source is mentioned). Fields may, however, develop their own solutions to ensure authorship and copyright.

The contents of the legal term base are specified and produced by Suomalainen Lakimiesyhdistys ry (Finnish Lawyers’ Association SLY) in accordance with the cooperation agreement concluded with the term bank. SLY enters the concept articles centrally to the term bank. The authors are noted in the concept page, and the authors retain the copyright to the legal term articles. Even the lawyers have, however, started to plan for the upcoming update and the forms of co-authoring required by it. A more extensive description written by a single author under their own name, which can not be modified by others, can be linked to the concept pages in other subject areas as well.

Earning of credits in term work

The realisation of the goals of the term bank requires commitment from researchers. This in turn requires that researchers who need to be careful about their time and reputation as well as financiers of research understand that term work is one way to earn credits. It must be possible to present the work done for the term bank in a similar manner as any publications and activities included in scientific work.

The term bank received the status of a periodic publication and an ISSN number at the beginning of 2018. An author of a term bank concept page or someone who has implemented substantial modifications can thereby demonstrate their contribution in the research information system and in their list of publications.

Guidelines have been prepared for entries used in the term bank. These guidelines, however, require case-by-case evaluation and application in university research information systems, for example. The guidelines will be revised as experience is gained on the new forms of co-authoring. They might even affect the structures of databases collecting research information.

The term bank does not have a Jufo publication forum classification at this time, but we intend to determine the requirements of becoming accepted as a new publishing channel in a supplementary evaluation of the forum. Some of the Jufo publication forum criteria, however, are problematic in terms of electronic publishing formats based on co-authoring and undergoing constant modifications, such as the requirement to subject the entire text to review before publishing. These criteria should therefore be continuously reconsidered and refined with regard to developing, diverse publishing opportunities.

Open peer review is the defining principle of all work conducted in the term bank.

The specialist groups of the term bank may decide on the organisation of term work freely, but many of them are already organised like an editorial board, with an editor-in-chief in charge of coordination of the entire subject field and editors responsible for specific areas within the field. This approach has proven itself as a functional and fruitful way of creating content in the jurisprudence, for example.

Open peer review is the defining principle of all work conducted in the term bank, and the platform has been created around this principle. As such, however, it does not meet the requirements of peer review status of publishers, and term articles therefore cannot be considered as peer reviewed scientific publications.

When a researcher participates in term work, they first and foremost have the opportunity to affect how their research results and ideas become heard and understood, both in their own field of study and as a part of wider discussion in the scientific community and in the society. Term work is a form of societal influencing. For the research community, developing and maintaining Finnish and Swedish terminology in their field is a natural part of the so-called third duty of academic research. The development of national and minority languages and using these as scientific languages supports the vitality of these languages and people’s constitutional right to own language and culture.

Term bank promoting open science

Openness and transparency are basic values of research, applicable to the nature of research information, research and review methods as well as scientific communications. The term bank is an open source of information, also opening up the scientific process, the debates included in it, the multi-perspective approach and the development of fields of study and scientific thinking.

The terms collected in the term bank help understand a specific field of science, the research conducted in it and the connections between different fields of science. The specialists in the specific field are responsible for the reliability of information. Most subject areas welcome all researchers in the field to join in the specialist groups, starting from doctoral researchers.

The term bank is primarily descriptive in nature, describing the way scientific terminology is used in each specific field. Term work, however, also helps standardise terms by creating jointly agreed recommendations about the meaning of scientific terms. A uniform terminology facilitates and clarifies communications and reduces misunderstandings both among specialists and between specialists and laypersons.

The term bank is an open source of information, also opening up the scientific process, the debates included in it, the multi-perspective approach and the development of fields of study and scientific thinking.

Additionally, the term bank creates a digital record available for open access by researchers. The more comprehensive the content of the term bank is, the more useful, valid and reliable its contents are for use as research materials.

Terms are important because they crystallise entire frameworks of information and perspectives to phenomena under observation. The descriptions of the concept pages of The Helsinki Term Bank for the Arts and Sciences open these up in a form that is understandable even to laypersons, increasing understanding, which is precisely the significance of the term bank for the greater public. New vocabulary constantly drips from scientific language to everyday speech, becoming part of ordinary language. The media often picks up new terms quickly as a part of more extensive societal discussion.

In the popularisation of science in non-fiction literature or textbooks, the author has to consider how much special terminology should be used and to what extent the matter can be popularised by means of everyday language expressions. Teachers, authors of study materials, non-fiction writers, reporters, translators and supporters of societal decision-making need background information about scientific terms even when they do not use them directly in the end result of their work. It is therefore important that in addition to the terms, other information about the terms is easily available. All users registered in the term bank with their own name can contact specialists in the fields of science through the discussion platform.

Term work is absolutely necessary for the ability to utilise the continuously accumulating digital research materials and publications as efficiently as possible in the future by means of automated search engines and artificial intelligence. The modelling of concepts, determination of concepts and the relationships between concepts included in term work supports the semantic interoperability of information systems, which is becoming more and more significant with the digitalisation of the society. Such information cannot, however, be generated completely automatically; instead, the specialist of fields of science still provide an invaluable input as producers of reliable information of high quality.

Johanna Enqvist works as a Research Coordinator in The Helsinki Term Bank for the Arts and Sciences. Tiina Onikki-Rantajääskö is Professor at the Department of Finnish, Finno-Ugrian and Scandinavian Studies at University of Helsinki and in charge of The Helsinki Term Bank for the Arts and Sciences project.

Further information:

Koskinen, K. 2016: Käännöstiede Tieteen termipankissa: Talkoistetun termityön ihanuus ja kurjuus. Hartama-Heinonen, R. & Kivilehto, M. & Ruokonen, M. (toim.): MikaEL: Kääntämisen ja tulkkauksen tutkimuksen symposiumin verkkojulkaisu, Vol 9, 119–125.
Mattila, H. E. S. 2015: De juridiska begreppen i Vetenskapstermbanken i Finland. Sandström, C., Cantell,I., Grönros,E.-R., Nuolijärvi, P., Sommardahl, E. (red.): Perspektiv på lexikografi, grammatik och språkpolitik i Norden, 186–199. Helsingfors: Institutet för de inhemska språken.
Nilsson, Henrik & Antti Kanner & Tiina Onikki-Rantajääskö 2016: Post och bank – om lagring av terminologi, den svenska Rikstermbanken och den finska Vetenskapstermbanken. - Pilke, Nina & Niina Nissilä (red.), Tänkta termer - Terminologihänsyn i nordiskt perspektiv. VAKKI Publications Nr. 5. Vaasa. Ss. 100-136.
Onikki-Rantajääskö, T. & Enqvist, J. 2018. Tieteen termipankki kehittää suomen kielen käyttöä tieteen kielenä. Kielikello 1/2018.
Onikki-Rantajääskö, T. & Pitkänen-Heikkilä, K. 2015. Joukkoistamisen haasteita ja mahdollisuuksia Tieteen termipankin wikitalkoissa. Tieteessä tapahtuu 6/2015.