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Education The Internet

Professors To Ban Students From Citing Wikipedia 507

Posted by Zonk
from the we-have-these-things-called-books dept.
Inisheer writes "History professors at Middlebury College are tired of having all their students submit the same bad information on term papers. The culprit: Wikipedia — the user-created encyclopedia that's full of great stuff, and also full of inaccuracies. Now the the entire History department has voted to ban students from citing it as a resource. An outright ban was considered, but dropped because enforcement seemed impossible. Other professors at the school agree, but note that they're also enthusiastic contributors to Wikipedia. The article discusses the valuable role that Wikipedia can play, while also pointed out the need for critical and primary sources in college-level research." What role, if any, do you think Wikipedia should play in education?
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Professors To Ban Students From Citing Wikipedia

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  • by suso (153703) * on Friday January 26, 2007 @02:45PM (#17772588) Homepage Journal
    I wonder how many of those professors had actually been misinformed. I've had a handful of professors state information that I found out later to be in disagreement with a larger community. Most of them don't like to be told or find out that they are wrong. On the other hand, I don't blame them for doing this. Wikipedia might be a good place for determining what books you could find good information in, but not as the reference itself.

    With City Wikis like Bloomingpedia [bloomingpedia.org], a lot of the information is gathered from observation and personal research and there isn't much else to reference. I'm wondering how referencing then will pan out, if it ever needs to be done.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 26, 2007 @02:52PM (#17772746)
      You may not have meant it that way, but I'd like to point out that facts are not democraticly elected or the result of who prevails in an edit war. Most of the greatest minds have at one point been in fundamental disagreement with a larger community.
      • Greatest minds (Score:3, Insightful)

        by benhocking (724439)

        Most of the greatest minds have at one point been in fundamental disagreement with a larger community.

        And just as often, most of the greatest minds have been at one point in fundamental disagreement with each other. I.e., they're often wrong. One aspect of being great is daring to make great mistakes.

        However, the argument here is about Wikipedia being cited. Citing primary sources will not change whether or not the professor is in fundamental disagreement with the larger community. That said, primary so

        • Re:Greatest minds (Score:5, Insightful)

          by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Friday January 26, 2007 @04:41PM (#17775092) Homepage Journal
          I absolutely encourage students to use Wikipedia - just not to cite it. It's a great way to find sources, but it's not a primary source. And we only want to see primary sources cited.

          The best scholars have shortcuts to information. Wikipedia is such a shortcut, nicely organized. There are colleagues who frown upon any use of Wikipedia, but they are just snobs, and pissed off that they didn't have such a tool when they were grad students.

          Academia contains a shocking number of small-minded people who are scared to death of their students actually learning anything. They really want to pull up the ladder behind them, would just as soon never see one of their students get a PhD. As long as they have a steady stream of cheap grad-student labor to use as research assistants, they keep the most destructive aspects of their own insecurities hidden. Fortunately, there are enough decent department heads and chairs that know this to make sure a reasonable number matriculate, and that a reasonable number of those get jobs.

          There are lovely aspects of a life in academia. But there's an ugly underside, too.
          • I absolutely encourage students to use Wikipedia - just not to cite it. It's a great way to find sources, but it's not a primary source. And we only want to see primary sources cited.

            I agree with this in principle, as any encyclopedia is a tertiary source. But if a student wants to read and cite a primary source that the institution's library doesn't have an annual subscription to, what should the student do?

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by aardvarkjoe (156801)

              But if a student wants to read and cite a primary source that the institution's library doesn't have an annual subscription to, what should the student do?
              Um ... find another primary source? Use his problem-solving skills to obtain a copy of the source in question? "Cite Wikipedia instead" isn't a very good solution.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by tyler_larson (558763)

              I agree with this in principle, as any encyclopedia is a tertiary source. But if a student wants to read and cite a primary source that the institution's library doesn't have an annual subscription to, what should the student do?

              Wikipedia's official [wikipedia.org] policy [wikipedia.org] is that no article may contain information that isn't also published somewhere else. The correct response would be to follow the references cited in the Wikipedia article to the original source of the information. If no source is cited for a given piece

        • Re:Greatest minds (Score:5, Informative)

          by 644bd346996 (1012333) on Friday January 26, 2007 @05:08PM (#17775642)
          Wikipedia has a policy against being a primary source: No Original Research. [wikipedia.org]
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by zeath (624023)

        You may not have meant it that way, but I'd like to point out that facts are not democraticly elected or the result of who prevails in an edit war. Most of the greatest minds have at one point been in fundamental disagreement with a larger community.

        Unless there are theories being formed in the absence of concrete evidence, such as evolution vs intelligent design, most historical information can be classified as either objective or subjective. To that end, I think the biggest complaint the history profes

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by yankpop (931224)

          To that end, I think the biggest complaint the history professors would have had would be students citing work that was based on articles that were subjective and questionably biased. It does not seem much different than any of the published works found in a library that could also be just as subjective and biased.

          No, that's just plain wrong. There is a much more important difference between wikipedia and the library. Sure, both have lots of subjective and biased information. The key difference is the do

        • by Warg! The Orcs!! (957405) on Friday January 26, 2007 @04:46PM (#17775182)
          I am an Ancient Historian (someone who has a masters in Ancient History rather than a historian who is very old). I find that wikipedia is a very erratic source of information. Sometimes there is vast wodges of info and at times there is very little. I have no problem with directing students to wikipedia as a *starting point* but would not accept it as a source in itself. The best way for any prospective historian to tackle a topic quickly and easily at undergraduate level is firstly to read all the recommended primary sources and secondly to walk/cycle/drive/float/teleport down to their campus or department library and pick up the _textbook_ that their tutor has recommended, flick to the bibliography and read every relevent sounding book or article listed therein. There is no other way of producing decent work. Unfortunately for students (lazy, idle, shifty buggers the lot of them) it requires effort.

          At undergraduate level in the UK there is no need to concentrate on the bias of secondary sources but any bias in primary sources MUST be recognised and commented on as the work produced will be meaningless otherwise. One cannot write an essay about Nero without explaining the hostility of Christian sources or about Domitian without commenting on the bias in Tacitus. At masters level and above all bias is relevant, including your own.

          blah, blah, waffle, waffle....I get carried away.
    • I wonder how many of those professors had actually been misinformed.
      This is quite true. I'm constantly amazed at how many people who should know better end up with misinformation. In fact, I think it happens to everyone to varying degrees. The problem with citing Wikipedia (or any Encyclopedia for that matter) is that it is a non-authoritive source. It becomes unclear whether the encyclopedia is at fault, or the person who believes it to be at fault. Citing authoritive sources clarifies who is correct. (Always the authoritive source, unless the other party knows that the source has been discredited.)

      I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Wikipedia is a great place to start your research. It can even be perfect for solving quick arguments on the Internets. But it should never show up as a citation in any professional or educational context. Which is something one needs to keep in mind, as it's very easy to slip up and treat them as authoritive. They're not. They're just an encyclopedia. :)
      • by Intron (870560)
        Which leads to the main problem with Wikipedia - not inaccuracy, but unsourced articles. The tendency is that if you "know" something, you can just write it down. I've seen articles on there that authoritatively claim "the first one was built at..." with no dates and no citation. It may even be true, but there's no way to check. I just throw {{fact}} on those.
      • by truthsearch (249536) on Friday January 26, 2007 @03:17PM (#17773314) Homepage Journal
        I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Wikipedia is a great place to start your research.

        With Wikipedia's intentions of citing sources in as many articles as possible, this is especially true. Often you can find the original source of information more accurately than a google search because it's linked right in the article. Go to the original source, get the details, and cite them.
    • by eln (21727) on Friday January 26, 2007 @02:56PM (#17772878) Homepage
      Whether the professor is wrong in contradicting information on Wikipedia is irrelevant. You can't very well prove him wrong by citing Wikipedia. All Wikipedia will tell him is that at least one random person on the Internet thinks he's wrong.

      Wikipedia has been shown to be riddled with errors, and should be used only as a quick reference or as a place to find links to more information, not as a citeable source in real research. Professors get proven wrong all the time, that's the nature of scholarship. Some might get a little bent out of shape about it, but if they were going to be shown wrong by Wikipedia, they would probably be shown wrong with a whole lot more credibility by a whole lot of other, more reliable, sources.
    • by apt142 (574425)
      An interesting phenomenon I've discovered with history (and anthropology) students and the professors is that they tend to be very protective and defensive about their knowledge. I've heard of students getting flunked out out for favoring the wrong theory or worse, an opposing professor's theory. It doesn't come as a surprise that they have conflicting opinions about wikipedia.

      Now, this has been my perception. Mileage may vary... yadda yadda yadda.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by badasscat (563442)
        Now, this has been my perception. Mileage may vary... yadda yadda yadda.

        Mileage may vary on this sort of treatment by professors (and mine sure does - I was actually the only person to get an "A" in my first college history class because I was the only one who disagreed with my professor's theory). But I don't think anybody's mileage varies on wikipedia - one of the only few facts you can count on it for with 100% certainty is that many articles contain errors. Nobody who uses it on a regular basis would
    • by Life2Short (593815) on Friday January 26, 2007 @03:46PM (#17773968)
      From TFA: "he wrote that he had 'just read a paper about the relation between structuralism, deconstruction, and postmodernism in which every reference was to the Wikipedia articles on those topics with no awareness that there was any need to read a primary work or even a critical work.'" Yeah, right. We all know there's an objective response to that question. Sheesh. What was the cause of the American Civil War? What is "Moby Dick" about? How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? And you're disappointed that students aren't digging deep enough for the truth? It's not like Wikipedia says the American Civil War began in 2005 and ended in 1066. I'd love to see more specifics about what these guys are so upset about. Obligatory Simpson's reference: "Just say 'slavery.'"
      • by eln (21727) on Friday January 26, 2007 @04:21PM (#17774688) Homepage
        It's not like Wikipedia says the American Civil War began in 2005 and ended in 1066.

        Just give me a few seconds, and it will!
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Goaway (82658)
        From TFA: "he wrote that he had 'just read a paper about the relation between structuralism, deconstruction, and postmodernism in which every reference was to the Wikipedia articles on those topics with no awareness that there was any need to read a primary work or even a critical work.'" Yeah, right. We all know there's an objective response to that question.

        At least read what you are citing, will you? "A primary work or even a critical work" - the whole point is that when there is not an objective answer,
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Life2Short (593815)
          My point was the quote betrays more about the people complaining about the wikipedia than the weaknesses of wikipedia itself. The guy assigned a paper about the relation between structuralism, deconstruction, and postmodernism and didn't make it clear in the assignment that he wanted multiple sources, multiple views on these perspectives? WTF? How about a grading rubric to go with the assignment so I'm not left shooting blind? I don't think that's too much to ask, particularly in the humanities where th
  • Seems Consistent (Score:5, Informative)

    by udderly (890305) * on Friday January 26, 2007 @02:45PM (#17772594)
    This seems consistent to me--when I was in college, citing any encyclopedias was strongly discouraged.
    • by Cougar1 (256626) on Friday January 26, 2007 @02:54PM (#17772824)
      Agreed! An encyclopedia is not a "primary source" of information, especially in scientific disciplines. While an encyclopedia may be fine for a high school paper, half the point of a University is to learn to use the Library to do serious research and delve deeper than what could be found in an encyclopedia. Encyclopedias, including Wikipedia, are useful to give a basic introduction to a topic and point someone towards useful references, but at the College, students should be digging deeper than an encyclopedia.
    • BINGO. Encyclopedia's are reference materials, basically intended to give you a background on a particular subject -- from there you can research further. Its a giant yellow pages for researchers.

      Add to that the volatility of wikipedia (e.g. you can't reference its contents, since they're always in flux), and its a poor resource of term papers.
      • by Lehk228 (705449)
        you can cite a particular instance of a wikipedia page from the page you want to cite click history then the date at the top of the list of revisions

        not that you should be citing an encyclopedia anyways, but it is entirely possible as long as the page doesn't get VfD'd between the time you cite it and when you turn in your paper.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by forkazoo (138186)

        BINGO. Encyclopedia's are reference materials, basically intended to give you a background on a particular subject -- from there you can research further. Its a giant yellow pages for researchers.

        Add to that the volatility of wikipedia (e.g. you can't reference its contents, since they're always in flux), and its a poor resource of term papers.

        1 - Yes, I agree that considering wikipedia as a source is stupid, just like referencing an encyclopedia is stupid. Wikipedia *specifiaclly bans* original research,

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by krotkruton (967718)
      Not contrary to your statement, FTA: All faculty members will be telling students about the policy and explaining why material on Wikipedia -- while convenient -- may not be trustworthy.

      They will be explaining why material on Wikipedia may not be trustworthy. If they do this, then why do they need to ban Wikipedia from being used as a source. Shouldn't explaining Wikipedia's role and saying, "There are very few situations where it is acceptable to use Wikipedia, so if you want to be safe, just don't ci
      • by jstott (212041) on Friday January 26, 2007 @03:13PM (#17773240)

        Shouldn't explaining Wikipedia's role and saying, "There are very few situations where it is acceptable to use Wikipedia, so if you want to be safe, just don't cite it as a source," be good enough to stop this so-called "problem"?

        I've taught at the university level, and I can assure you it isn't sufficient. Rational arguments won't do it, as far as the students are concerned, everything that isn't forbidden is permitted. If Wikipedia isn't explicitly banned, students will ignore your "just do the right thing" and will continue to insist that Wikipedia is a perfectly valid and reliable source.

        Students are lazy and going to the library is work. Many have never used anything besides Google and Wikipedia for research; they don't know how to efficiently track down sources and references. As other posters have pointed out, in my day it was [paper] encyclopedias, this is just a variation on the theme. They were forbidden (with good reason) when I was a student, and they should be forbidden now for the same reasons.

        -JS

    • Re:Seems Consistent (Score:4, Informative)

      by tinkerghost (944862) on Friday January 26, 2007 @03:50PM (#17774038) Homepage

      Strongly discouraged is a dramatic understatement. Prohibited is closer to the truth. I can't think of a single course I took in college that would have accepted an encyclopedia reference in a term paper. English, sociology, psychology, World Civ, science (72 crh phy, che, & bio) none of them would have accepted a cite from an encyclopedia for anything more than a copyright notice of a picture you might have included.

      In a college level science paper you include only 2 things, independent research - backed by methodology, and peer reviewed papers. The farther you get from hard sciences (where either A + B = C or it doesn't), the lower the peer reviewed requirement at lower levels - IE biographies are rarely peer reviewed, but highly helpful in understanding the importance of the personality traits of people involved in historical events. Even there, at higher levels if you're going to base a thesis on "The impact of GWB's syphalis on his behaviour reguarding the 2nd Iraq war", you're going to need a primary peer reviewed source reporting his syphalis, or independent discovery of his (verifiable) medical records. Bob's History of the Shrub isn't going to cut it.

  • Use it properly. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Irish_Samurai (224931) on Friday January 26, 2007 @02:46PM (#17772618)
    It's a great starting point, but you can't trust the information completely. Use it to get you aimed in the right direction and then go from there.

    • by EastCoastSurfer (310758) on Friday January 26, 2007 @02:57PM (#17772892)
      Exactly. I'd ban the citing of wikipedia from any class I taught also. It's made to be a starting point for research, not an endpoint. Kids these days just don't know how to go the library and do real research. If it doesn't come up on google and/or wikipedia it must not exist!
    • by garcia (6573)
      It's a great starting point, but you can't trust the information completely. Use it to get you aimed in the right direction and then go from there.

      Exactly and instead of "banning" it, they should simply educate their students to use proper research materials which would not include encyclopedias or any easily modifiable document, such as a wiki.
  • My idea (Score:5, Funny)

    by Vengeance (46019) on Friday January 26, 2007 @02:47PM (#17772630)
    I'm tempted to plant some *really* wrong information on any given topic, when I become aware of a term paper that's been assigned on it.

    You know, things like 'Bonito Mussolini was named after a kind of tuna fish. He was born in the year 1726 and died of natural causes 800 years later'.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by mypalmike (454265)
      I'm tempted to plant some *really* wrong information on any given topic...

      There's a place for you on the internet. Uncyclopedia [uncyclopedia.org] is a fine source of misinformation.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by AKAImBatman (238306) *

      things like 'Bonito Mussolini was named after a kind of tuna fish. He was born in the year 1726 and died of natural causes 800 years later'.

      Putting aside the humor for a moment, such info would be self-defeating. Anyone paying even the slightest amount of attention is going to notice the problems. What you need is something more insidious. e.g.:

      Bonito Mussolini was born in 1897 in Paris, France. He lived there until 1921 when he immigrated to Italy to escape Jewish persecution. In 1938 he was elected the l

  • by uber_geek9 (879433) on Friday January 26, 2007 @02:48PM (#17772656)
    We learned in elementary school that you aren't supposed to use an encyclopedia as a source! Especially one freely editable.
    • by Vengeance (46019)
      Because college students are teh lazy.
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Well, we didn't learn that in my elementary school. All throughout school, I used and properly cited encyclopedias for my reports.

      With that said, I went to school in California, so it's remarkable that I can tie my own shoes or go to the bathroom without assistance.

  • Encyclopedias are meant as guides to further, substantive reading, not end-sin-themselves. The last time I was permitted to rely on an encyclopedia's authority alone was in middle school (age 13).

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by udderly (890305) *

      Encyclopedias are meant as guides to further, substantive reading, not end-sin-themselves.
      Good thing that they don't end sin; what would we do on the weekends?
  • IMHO, NO single source is trustworthy. Wikipedia is a source, but it shouldn't be used as THE source.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      One major problem is that with all the WP mirrors, it's easy to find half a dozen "sources" that back WP up (being copies of a week-old version of WP)
  • by Thansal (999464)
    Wikipiedia (or any encyclopedia) is a good STARTING place for information, however fom there you sohuld really look through the links that are cited in the article itself, see what you think of theri validity, and possibly cite them directly if that is where you info ends up coming from.

    And remember, Wikis get vandalized, if you read somethign that SOUNDS acurate, it could just be a good trick that no one has caught yet.
  • by MyNameIsEarl (917015) <assf2000@nOSPam.yahoo.com> on Friday January 26, 2007 @02:50PM (#17772700)
    Citing an encyclopedia was frowned upon back when I was in college. Wikipedia is like an encyclopedia but with an even worse feature, the information can change at any given time. I would not want to cite something and have a professor or his assistant look it up and see that it was different from what I wrote in the paper.
  • The bigger problem (Score:5, Insightful)

    by grungebox (578982) on Friday January 26, 2007 @02:50PM (#17772704) Homepage
    Why the hell are COLLEGE students citing encyclopedias in papers in the first place? That's what you do for those papers in sixth grade on why Tony Hawk is awesome or whatever, but if you're older than 14, you shouldn't be citing an encyclopedia (or *pedia) of any sort. That's just a sign of poor research skills.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Rakishi (759894)
      Exactly, everytime I hear of this I wonder what sort of shit college this must be. Encyclopedias should be banned period, they are a reference to find other sources not a source themselves. Hell, even in middle school we were told that encyclopedias are not a proper source and not to use them as such.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by theLOUDroom (556455)
      Why the hell are COLLEGE students citing encyclopedias in papers in the first place? That's what you do for those papers in sixth grade on why Tony Hawk is awesome or whatever, but if you're older than 14, you shouldn't be citing an encyclopedia (or *pedia) of any sort. That's just a sign of poor research skills.

      BUT WHY?!

      Give me one good reason why I should not cite an encyclopedia for commonly availible, non-contraversial information?
      I double freakin dog dare you.

      People like you only say this crap
  • . . . I'm amazed Wikipedia isn't already covered under some sort of ban on citing any sort of encyclopedia in a term paper. I know when I was in college that wound never have flown with any of my professors. All it succeeds in showing is that you were too lazy to find some decent sources for your work. Citing Wikipedia is particularly egregious in that a decent Wikipedia article will cite sources (with those blue clicky things, no less), making it really easy to get to the good stuff.
  • I teach argumentative writing to freshmen, and they aren't allowed to cite wikipedia for me either. In fact, unless someone is writing about wkipedia, I can't see any reason to use it as a bibliographic source in an academic paper. And I don't know anyone who would sanction wikipedia as an acceptable source.
  • Everything! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by AutopsyReport (856852) on Friday January 26, 2007 @02:51PM (#17772724)
    In education? Everything. I've learned so much about topics I never had the means to easily research, or things I never knew existed. The amount of knowledge on Wikipedia is fascinating and a dream for someone who loves to learn. It can be a blessing for students.

    In academics? It is obviously not suited for citing factual information, but it certainly helps students formulate and nurture ideas and theories. It can help point them in the right direction, and it can also lead them towards more factual sources.

    A ban on citing Wikipedia is expected, but Wikipedia is far too powerful to dismiss as not having a role in education.
  • Wikipedia should never be cited as a source. It's a good way to start getting some information on a topic, but that's it. Do these professors allow students to use encyclopedias as sources? This isn't elementary school.
  • by Darvin (878219)
    I don't cite from Wikipedia, however i do use the sources and citations used from Wikipedia without mentioning the wiki article itself.

    I know many of my peers that use it religiously, and many of those papers are practically clones. However, if my lecturers started to try and stop the use Wikipedia for material, I'll be the first to point out that little hypocritical rule. My lectures use Wikipedia abundantly in their hand-outs, notes and references to their own work when lecturing!
  • Uh oh (Score:5, Funny)

    by Sponge Bath (413667) on Friday January 26, 2007 @02:52PM (#17772764)

    You mean the Everywhere Girl is not responsible for the German bombing of Pearl Harbor?
    I feel disillusioned.

  • by heretic108 (454817) on Friday January 26, 2007 @02:53PM (#17772770)
    This is what I see as the place of Wikipedia in tertiary education:
    1. Quick rough primer
    2. Source of links, some of which may end up being citeable
    3. Inspiration for finely-honed Google searches for authoritative sites
    4. Absolutely nothing else
    • by forkazoo (138186)

      1. Quick rough primer
            2. Source of links, some of which may end up being citeable
            3. Inspiration for finely-honed Google searches for authoritative sites
            4. Absolutely nothing else
      Unless you are writing a research paper on the different colors of Chocobo in a specific Final Fantasy game. In this case, Wikipedia is the definitive reference.
  • And when all I'm interested in is a general overview of something, it's often a good place to go. But I agree that using it as a source for a college paper is unwise. Not just because of the innacuracies, but because when you are doing research, you need to get to original sources. Wikipedia by its very nature is not an original source.

    One thing I impressive about Wikipedia is just how obsessively detailed some of the entries are. Some of those details may or may not be correct, but the level of detail is far greater than any encyclopedia I've ever used. And even a detail that's wrong or innacurate still gives you something to look for when you're going over original sources.

  • Reasonable (Score:2, Redundant)

    by AeroIllini (726211)
    Repeat after me:
    "Encyclopedias are not a source."

    Now repeat again after me:
    "Encyclopedias ON THE INTERNET are not a source."
  • They shouldn't be using encyclopedias in this way at all. They are a good place to start your research and point you in the right direction, but you probably shouldn't actually be using them as a source in your writing...
  • by hachete (473378)
    Wikipedia aspires to be an encylopaedia. From the front-page:

    Welcome to Wikipedia,
    the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.

    It's for background reading and finding primary and secondary sources. As such, this is how I use it.

    Interesting that the profs contribute. Part of the reason why wikipedia is better than Brittanica.
  • Wikipedia critics -- and even the fans -- compare it to the Encyclopedia Britannica, when in fact it should be compared -- favorably -- to Google. When you search for something in Wikipedia, you get a synopsis and a bunch of links. The content can change over time. Sound familiar?

    Wikipedia is presently unsuitable for citation because citing means citing an author, not a web page (that can change, I might add). Even if the person doing the citing has the foresight to cite a deep link to a specific versio

  • How can you say a piece of information is accurate? Only if you create it in first person and use it!
    Othewise if you have the original source, you can accurately cite it. If you have not, you end to cite a source claiming to cite an original source. And so on.
    In regards to the History, most of the sources either are not original or have a quesitonable genuinity.
    Wikipedia is great as it doesn't claim to have accurate information and allows everyone to modify almost everything.
    Just like the Hitchhiker's Gu [wikipedia.org]
  • My courses already have an outright ban on Wikipedia as a research source; most CS professors know how bad it is for edits and will reject it. Social science courses seem to allow it, but once you tell them it can be edited arbitrarily by anyone, they usually tell the course they can no longer use it.

    Unfortunately, nobody seems to have told the local paper -- they repeatedly run sidebars on the front page with their citation attributed to Wikipedia. This is a paper with about 400k circulation, too, so not a

  • They shoud say:
    "Every year we get people with inaccuracies from wikipedia. You might not want to use it exclusivly"

    If someone tunrs in a paper with incorrect historic information, give them an 'F'.
    By college, student certianly should begin seeing consequences like these.

    That said. Wikipedia is purprisingle accurate most of the time.

    The main exceptions is when someothing suddenly gain mind spaces, or controversial items.
    For example, I just looked up the War of 1812, and it seemed to give pretty good informat
  • I remember a French professor named Alain Finkielkraut who held a seminar here in Norway once who stated in the newspaper that "the internet is garbage" (exact quote) because it consistes of accurate and inaccurate information (or outright lies) next to each other.

    While we should not underestimate the value of Wikipedia as a tool for sparking interest, and public information, it is not an scietifict/academic source of information. The shear plasticity of the articles should make it obvious that it is not a
  • Seems reasonable to me. A well written Wikipedia article already cites its sources. Just follow the trail and in the process learn whether that particular article is accurate.
  • Well, I think that Middlebury College had better deal with their burgeoning African elephant population. It's shot up tremendously there recently. I hear that elephants LOOOOVE "little ivies".
  • by w33t (978574) on Friday January 26, 2007 @03:28PM (#17773576) Homepage
    Perhaps wikipedia should have peer-reviewed revisions of certain articles.

    It would be neat if a group of accredited individuals would be willing to take the time to review certain popular articles and make expert revisions and release a "green" revision of an article. There could be a link on the article page saying, "click here for the peer-reviewed revision from 11-29-06" or something to that nature.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by owlnation (858981)
      While your suggestion has merits, it would mean that articles would have to be locked (or even more locked than many already are). This would further defeat the wiki model more than the sometimes heavy handed and sometimes biased controls already in force. It would simply become just another encyclopedia.

      However, It would certainly solve one problem with the wiki model though - that where, if you hold an unpopular view, no matter how provable in fact it may be, it may be it will always be edited to match
  • by fantomas (94850) on Friday January 26, 2007 @03:32PM (#17773696)
    We need to disentangle why Wikipedia (and other resources) might not be suitable for citing

    1. Rapidly changing content. Can be resolved be identifying which specific version is being referred to, like any other resource.

    2. Not authoritative. University level educators usually prefer only peer-reviewed material to be cited, or material to have been checked by some reasonably trustworthy rigourous procedure. This is where Wikipedia is potentially weakest, or perhaps most challenging of the traditional model.

    I can understand the college making its life easier by a blanket ban on Wikipedia, it's up to Wikipedia to raise its standards to be acceptable to academic institutions.

    In a number of cases I know of high quality articles, for example where the primary authors are world-renown in the field they are writing on. But the amount of work required to identify high quality articles is probably still too great for a harassed lecturer who has a hundred essays to mark amongst a thousand other jobs, I can understand them falling back on only accepting from known sources.

    My question would be: what does Wikipedia have to do to become accepted as an academic source?

  • by kenthorvath (225950) on Friday January 26, 2007 @03:39PM (#17773836)
    I think that professors should assign students to contribute to Wikipedia as part of their grade. All entries and modifications should be run passed the professor first, of course, and all factual assertions should be cited - but I think that there is an enormous opportunity to increase the value of both the encyclopedia and the students' educational experience. Learning to write articles and express factual information succinctly is just too important a skill to forgo. Also, if Academia were to become more involved in the quality control of the encyclopedia, they might be more apt to use it.
  • by gobbo (567674) <wrewrite@gmai l . c om> on Friday January 26, 2007 @04:01PM (#17774264) Journal
    ...that they could use it as a starting place for planning out their research. It is excellent for that. You can very quickly find worthwhile generalities on most subjects, and often encounter trivial but useful details not easily found elsewhere, just because some geek for that topic took the time to care and fill out the article. Generally, because it is an encyclopaedia, it is particularly useful for finding the connections and boundaries between topics--in other words, for building up an outline and setting research priorities.

    Of course, I made it entirely explicit that one cannot cite wikipedia directly in a research paper, just as they couldn't cite the Britannica or the CDROM encyclopaedia they have at home. I was stunned when these supposedly literate, intelligent, creative 19 year-olds had trouble grasping the concept of primary sources--proof to me that public education is really a thinly disguised low-security vocational prison.
  • by Jabrwock (985861) on Friday January 26, 2007 @04:13PM (#17774524) Homepage
    A "good" wikipedia article has it's sources cited as well, so a student who wants to cite something found on Wikipedia can just double-check the source material, and then cite THAT source. Wikipedia is a good tool to help with research, but I wouldn't use it as a source. You'd be citing the source of a source afterall, right?
  • wikipedia (Score:3, Insightful)

    by minus_273 (174041) <aaaaa@SPDALIAM.yahoo.com minus painter> on Friday January 26, 2007 @04:38PM (#17775010) Journal
    floks, this is the same encyclopedia that once said the population of elephants had just tripled, bush is a martian, hillary clinton is republican and famously, some dude was responsible for the RFK and JFK assasinations. Its not a relible source and probably should have a banner somewhere explaining that is is "facts" decided democratically or via an edit war.
  • hmmm (Score:3, Insightful)

    by josepha48 (13953) on Friday January 26, 2007 @06:33PM (#17777080) Journal
    That would be like filtering slashdot on only subscribed users and then using their opinions on the subject as fact.

    That's the problem with wikipedia. Anyone can contribute to it. On some subject matters though the people that contribute to wikipedia end up being good references. On other subject matters the wiki can be crap. If you assume that wikipedia is all fact, then you probably do believe everything you read online, in which case by reading this you have contracted a deadly virus and your ears will fall off.

  • by HiThere (15173) <charleshixsn@earthlink . n et> on Friday January 26, 2007 @10:32PM (#17779816)
    Wikipedia *isn't* a primary source. I doubt that it's even a secondary source. Tertiary or later would be more accurate.

    OTOH: What *IS* a primary source? If you're an archaeologist, it's going on a dig, and it's what *YOU* dig up. Then there's what someone you know well claims to have dug up. But do notice that these primary sources are:
    1) limited, and
    2) not dated.

    Well, in chemistry or physics, it's the experiments that you, yourself, have performed. Much more widely replicable, but the subtlties of interpretation are dictated by the texts you have read. (They *SHOULDN'T* determine the result...but I occasionally repeated experiments until I got the results that I *ought* to get.) Texts, again, are not primary sources.

    Isaac Asimov was a professor of BioChemistry (at Columbia?) and he wrote an couple of articles on tracing plagerism in textbooks by the errors that they include. Textbooks seems to rarely be primary sources. (My favorite was called "The Sound of Panting". I don't know if it's currently available.)

    Stephen J. Gould wrote an article on tracing the heritage of scientific articles by the metaphors that they used. I forget it's title. Again the theme was how rarely articles, books, etc. were written relying solely on primary sources.

    So library books aren't primary sources either. Neither textbooks not journal articles. Some of them may be first generation copies, but you can't easily tell. And then there's the cases of scientists with reputations who make up their facts. (Medwar?)

    Primary sources are definitely preferable. But when it costs a few million to run the experiment there are few students that can afford them. (I'm thinking Tevatron, etc., here.)

    So the question, then, is more "How do you validate the trustworthiness of you data sources?" (After all, that's *why* primary sources are better.)
  • by crashnbur (127738) on Saturday January 27, 2007 @04:25AM (#17781758)
    I wrote many papers when I was in high school in college, and nearly every instructor gave the same warning: the internet can be a valuable guide, don't trust anything you read without something solid to back it up.

    But perhaps more importantly, the information contained in any encyclopedia is usually a summary of sorts, based on information gathered from a multitude of more credible and valuable sources. A WikiPedia entry is therefore, in many ways, like a student's paper turned into a professor for grading: someone did a little research, organized their findings into a convenient arrangement, and turned it in (with the chance of the effort being rejected).

    So, what role should WikiPedia play in education? As a guide, at most. A WikiPedia entry, like any good encyclopedia entry, will associate its topic with various keywords and other topics relevant to the research. And always, always check the citations!

God help those who do not help themselves. -- Wilson Mizner

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