Wikipedia has got to be the one Web 2.0-style thing that has contributed enormously to human society. It is almost too good to be true, both in concept and operation – proof that individuals can co-operate voluntarily to share their knowledge freely, to the benefit of anyone who wants it.
So, how is it that, according to the Guardian, that most US universities will automatically give an F grade to any student who cites it? If this is not just a myth – which seems increasingly likely, the more I think of it – how could it possibly be justified?
Surely wikipedia embodies the very spirit of scientific enquiry. Anything posted is immediately peer-reviewed and challenged by anyone who has a problem with it? This hardly applies to most academic journals, which are already subject to phenomena like sponsor bias and publication bloat. No one publishes on wikipedia (so far) to keep up their publication average or because a large pharmaceutical company paid for their research. Scepticism is even built in to the process – no one treats wikipedia as objectively true, unlike some traditional encyclopaedias. Errors actually get rectified, within the hour even.
If anything, therefore, wikipedia is possibly one of the most trustworthy sources of information on the planet. So where does the F idea come from? Cite x (2004) at the end of your papers- fine, whether or not it’s utter nonsense, (e.g. creationism or sociobiology :-)), but cite a wikipedia article? Collect that F at the door.