Nothing wrong with wikipedia

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.

4 thoughts on “Nothing wrong with wikipedia

  1. Not 100% sure I agree with this.

    You write: “Scepticism is even built in to the process – noone treats wikipedia as objectively true, unlike some traditional encyclopedias. Errors actually get rectified, within the hour even.”

    I think the opposite is true. More and more resources are now citing Wiki as an “authority” and while obvious errors on popular pages will get corrected quickly, most don’t. How many errors have you corrected??

    Wiki is very good at producing information which is “common knowledge” but it also suffers from that as a problem. Where there is a “common misconception,” Wikipedia is liable to re-inforce the misconception.

    Add into this the edit system and there is a good chance that the page you look at today will be radically different tomorrow (check out some of the more popular science ones for an example).

    At the extreme, a student could easily edit a wiki article to say what ever they want it to say and then cite themselves. Not exactly “good education” 🙂

    Wiki is good where its articles show references. Where it doesnt, well, you get what you pay for sometimes.

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