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wiki limits

so, we had to write a short paper in one of my classes, and the professor, when assigning it, actually said, "You'll be able to find information on these topics very easily on the internet, just do some searches, read Wikipedia..."

First off, I sort of feel like if I was a professor, I would force students to go to the library, and only use the internet if they can prove beyond every reasonable doubt that the source is credible. If you'd doing a report on a data bus, the INDUSTRY SPEC that you download from the governing body is reliable.

the first few google hits? maybe not.

wikipedia? ohmigod! MAYBE good for a starting point.

Should Wikipedia ever be cited as a source on a paper you turn in?

Absolutely not.
Only if it's a paper about opinions
Sure, it's credible.

pick the best:



( 25 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 14th, 2007 05:01 pm (UTC)
I think Wikipedia's great for getting ideas and a good starting point. Then I'd verify stuff through other sources.
Sep. 14th, 2007 07:30 pm (UTC)
That's exactly what I'd say. I use it to look for connections, find links to better references, etc. There *are* articles full of good, authoritative information there, but no really good way, without having expertise on the subject, to sort them from the crap.
Sep. 14th, 2007 05:01 pm (UTC)
Wiki's big selling point is that anyone can edit it. This negates it from being a credible source.
Sep. 14th, 2007 05:09 pm (UTC)
When I was TAing for a class (undergrad) that included a paper, IIRC we ... well, actually, limited the number of internet-based citations at all, and cautioned the students about making sure it's actually a credible source, but IIRC we also either banned or restricted the use of wikipedia as a citation.

I agree that it's MAYBE good for a starting point but NOT good for a primary source. It does depend slightly on what the topic is -- issues of opinion or popular culture would have a bit more leeway than things that actually rely on objective facts -- but if I were assigning a paper, I would probably explicitly discourage wikipedia, and discourage non-credible internet sources. Not *en*courage them.
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 14th, 2007 05:14 pm (UTC)
I think it would be a good start point to get ideas but probably isn't best as a primary source. Even if it gives an accurate answer the fact that anybody can edit it means it won't look so good in a list of sources.
Sep. 14th, 2007 05:18 pm (UTC)
In one of my MBA classes, I had a teammate* who plagiarized from Wikipedia. I wouldn't have accepted him even citing it as a source. Needless to say, we did not hand in his so-called work.

* The teams were assigned, not chosen. Also, said teammate was really late handing in his section and emailed it to us after he had already left the country to go on a cruise, so we couldn't even ask him to redo it. Nice guy. Grrr. We ended up researching and rewriting the section ourselves.
Sep. 14th, 2007 05:20 pm (UTC)
Aside from anything else, Wikipedia content is possibly the most likely source ever to change between you citing it and the reader reading it!
Sep. 14th, 2007 11:18 pm (UTC)
If nothing else, I'd consider that before citing Wikipedia in a work with any shelf life at all.

Wikipedia makes a great annotated bibliography to get you started (when the articles are written well), though.
Sep. 14th, 2007 05:51 pm (UTC)
For Classics, because we're such a bizarre and geeky subfield, I find that Wikipedia is great for a quick history lesson - 'sugar, I'm supposed to be teaching a text that briefly references the war against Mithridates in Pontus and I don't know who Mithridates was or where Pontus is' sort of thing. Wiki gave me enough history to flesh out why there was a war there, what the background was, and where the hell Pontus was (and if you've ever seen my geography, that was a pretty impressive achievement).

But that's something that pads out my general knowledge of my field rather than a research source. I write rude notes when students cite Wikipedia on anything I'm grading.

But they do have it in Latin, which I am happy to send my kids from 101 to read ;)
Sep. 14th, 2007 06:38 pm (UTC)
This is the kind of area where it's useful. I often use it to gain a quick overview of a field I'm not well-versed in, the arguments and debates happening in it and the major figures to create a framework for more detailed, better quality information.
It can be quite good for linking to primary texts too.
Sep. 14th, 2007 07:16 pm (UTC)
I totally agree. It can be a good point for a quick lesson in something unfamiliar and a good starting place to link to credible sources, however it is *not* authoritative.

I generally dislike internet sources as a general rule with three exceptions. First, electronic sources of published materials, but those are really the published materials. Second, peer reviewed articles which are published in electronic journals (Science and Nature both have on-line articles only). Third, sources which are obviously written as standards (government standards, patent licenses) from their authoritative sources and sources which are from people who publish in peer reviewed journals but choose to write some articles for a professional site (the cuniform community has several on line sites where scholars write articles - psd.museum.upenn.edu for example).
Sep. 14th, 2007 06:12 pm (UTC)
I think you sell it really short. Yeah, due to its nature you could have self-serving edits. But, it provides a TON of tools for managing the shortcomings. Look at the Edit history to see if the facts you're referencing have been in dispute. Look to see where the fact is attributed to - do you trust THAT source? If it's not attributed, it's usually marked as "needs source", and you can choose to treat it as suspect.

I know it might be hard to believe, but Encyclopedia Brittanica contains errors and mistruths too. Yes, even though it's made of paper and in a Library. I would submit that if you trust a source just because it's physical and housed under a roof that you're being just as naive as if you take everything at Wikipedia as gospel.

C'mon, it's *research*, you're supposed to be doing the legwork here, not deciding which reference material you think is best to re-word. Know your tools and use their strengths.

Sep. 14th, 2007 06:55 pm (UTC)
Yes, but how many students are likely to do that level of research? *wry grin*

Print sources aren't infallible, /but/ they have a level of ... gah, can't think what to call it; but because they go through a publisher and the editing process thereof, they're /more/ likely to be reputable than internet sources that don't have that intermediary. It's not guaranteed by any means, but if someone doesn't know how to research to begin with -- which is the reason they'd be listening to the "use the internet and wikipedia yay \o/" thing, really -- they probably don't have the skills to use the kind of critical evaluation that wikipedia would need as a source.

(Even if I used wikipedia to get a basic idea of a subject, it wouldn't be my primary source, and probably wouldn't even end up in the list of sources, because I'd need to confirm the facts against other sources anyway.)
Sep. 14th, 2007 07:17 pm (UTC)
Exactly. You would have to find the sources cited in wikipedia to confirm at which point the more authoritative sources you confirmed with should be the cited ones.
Sep. 16th, 2007 10:50 pm (UTC)
Wikipedia's user-edit structure almost certainly makes it more accurate for uncontroversial topics, whilst the extra level of editorial control in a print encyclopedia is really beneficial for, say, something like the history of Israel. The error rate is, I think, similar overall.

But I think arguments about accuracy, bias, and reliability are red herrings. Personally, I don't see how anybody beyond maybe 8th grade should ever be citing any kind of encyclopedia as a source for a paper or article. Whether it's wikipedia or Encyclopaedia Britannica is pretty immaterial - they're both just starting points, a way of briefing yourself on a topic.
Sep. 14th, 2007 06:53 pm (UTC)
You don't have to cite common knowledge, and my rule of thumb for determining whether something is common knowledge is whether it is or is likely something that would be in an encyclopedia article, including wikipedia. So I would never cite wikipedia anyway, whether I deem the particular article credible or not.
Sep. 15th, 2007 03:35 am (UTC)
I like this answer best of all! totally agree.
Sep. 14th, 2007 06:59 pm (UTC)
I chose "absolutely not", with the addendum that you can easily just cite the references that the Wikipedia article cites, and I think that's fine.
Sep. 14th, 2007 10:22 pm (UTC)
I need to put a disclaimer on what I chose. First off, many of my teachers encouraged it when I was in grad school, and it always felt weird to me. Most things in Wiki does have citations, and the wiki moderators are pretty good about noting things that do not have supporting documentation. So you can always look up THAT source and use it. Plus something else I've come across in the history side is that even books I use as research have conflicting "facts" where obviously one is not true. Wiki is just as reliable as any of those as well. Finally, to have a truly credible paper, especially at the graduate level, you should have several different sources supporting your point anyway, so I don't see why you can't use wiki as one of those.
Sep. 14th, 2007 11:42 pm (UTC)
I'm a debater, I don't even consider Time to be a reputable newsmagazine, what do you think?

Besides, I've been an E2 adherent for a lot longer and even though it avoids many of the problems of Wikipedia (attributed authors with sole control of their articles being a big one) it's even more casual in it's tone. In a way, this seems to be the better idea though. It doesn't have the same pretensions that Wikipedia has and I doesn't insist on the stuffy, formal tone for what is essentially something you're learning "on the street".
Sep. 15th, 2007 06:23 pm (UTC)
I've found wikipedia's outbound links are actually a pretty reliable source of citations, actually.
Sep. 15th, 2007 06:53 pm (UTC)
sharing preprints on DARPAnet
"The Internet" also includes IEEE Xplore, CiteSeer, arXiv.org, Cite-U-Like, etc. Just sayin' ;)
Sep. 15th, 2007 09:30 pm (UTC)
I tell my students they can use Wiki as a starting-point but never to be cited as a source because it isn't.
Sep. 17th, 2007 05:37 pm (UTC)
I think Wikipedia can be a valid source. It has gotten a lot better over the years, especially since people can indicate pieces as being "in conflict" or "under dispute."

Since it generally contains citations, I use Wikipedia as the portal. When I find the information I want or need, I then scroll down to the bottom and click on the appropriate reference point to get the full wealth of information, if possible. If I can't do that, I don't use that part of Wikipedia.

That being said, I don't think Wiki is an appropriate source everywhere. I'll never, for example, use Wikipedia in a debate round. Why? Because I'd be laughed out of the room and the judge would probably knock me senseless for even thinking it's an appropriate source.
( 25 comments — Leave a comment )

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