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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.
  • check the sources (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 26, 2007 @02:46PM (#17772616)
    Students should use it as a starting point, and check the sources of a wikipedia entry, then, use those sources for their papers.
  • 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 MyNameIsEarl (917015) <assf2000.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.
  • 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.
  • by Azarael (896715) on Friday January 26, 2007 @02:51PM (#17772730) Homepage
    I agree. I'd go as far as to say that for any serious work, you should have multiple corroborating sources for a topic, no matter what those sources are. Textbooks, encyclopedias and even peer reviewed papers have been shown to have inaccuracies in the past, might as well improve your odds of getting the right information.
  • 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.
  • 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 Mr. Underbridge (666784) on Friday January 26, 2007 @02:54PM (#17772790)
    An encyclopedia, regardless of type, is a poor replacement for a textbook. If you buy a book you rarely open, then you should be 1) studying harder, or 2) not buying your books until the 3rd week of class when you're sure you need them. ;)
  • 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.
  • by hachete (473378) on Friday January 26, 2007 @02:56PM (#17772862) Homepage Journal
    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.
  • by AKAImBatman (238306) * <akaimbatmanNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday January 26, 2007 @02:56PM (#17772874) Homepage Journal

    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 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 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 Lehk228 (705449) on Friday January 26, 2007 @03:04PM (#17773068) Journal
    if you reference the current revision from the page history rather than the named article you don't have to worry about your professor seeing He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named
  • by $RANDOMLUSER (804576) on Friday January 26, 2007 @03:09PM (#17773154)
    But that's information archaeology. While interesting, and possibly useful, by pointing you to other (primary) sources, in the same way the main article should. The real point is that (particularly in a history department) they're teaching scholarship, which means going deeper than quoting from any encyclopaedia.
  • by aj50 (789101) on Friday January 26, 2007 @03:09PM (#17773156)
    Always cite the date.
  • Re:My idea (Score:3, Insightful)

    by AKAImBatman (238306) * <akaimbatmanNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday January 26, 2007 @03:09PM (#17773174) Homepage Journal

    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 leader of Italy. In his innagural speech, he promised the world that Italy would hold strong against the Axis forces. Unfortunately, Italy was conquered by Nazi Germany in 1941, forcing Mussolini into hiding. To prevent Mussolini from stiring up a revolt, Hilter conscripted a body-double of Mussolini to act as the ruler of Italy. The plot was successful, and Italy believed that they had switched sides to the Axis powers. It wasn't until after the war that Hitler's plot was exposed, but it was too late to save Mussolini's reputation. Mussolini moved to Egypt shortly thereafter where he continues to live today.
    Put *that* in Wikipedia and I guarantee you'll hook a few suckers. (*shudder*) It's a good thing that the information is regularly checked and rechecked, making it unlikely that this would stay up long. Still...
  • 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

  • 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 Anonymous Coward on Friday January 26, 2007 @03:28PM (#17773566)
    If I were teaching a class I would ban Wikipedia on the grounds that delete "non-notable" content. Thereby it's not an authorative source of ANY data, since any data that any one editor doesn't deem notable will get deleted.

    Wikipedia is quickly turning into an astroturfing playground for hardcore subject nerds (note how many comic book articles there are and then look how many webcomic articles there are, and how many pages dedicated to characters of comic book characters... no matter how little role they had in some comic in the 70's.) that get into editing wars with each other and declare any attempt to preserve or delete content they edited as sockpuppeting or meatpuppeting or whatever the crap they call it.

    Wikipedia is not a credable source of any material any more than the local newspaper, and we all know how the media likes to spin things. If you are going to use wikipedia, skip the content and go straight to the links at the bottom of most articles that are researched. Then you don't get all the information and nothing "not-notable" omitted.

    Wikipedia is the slashdot equivilent of an encyclopedia, full of subject material only the nerds want or care about and everything else is not-notable.
  • Greatest minds (Score:3, Insightful)

    by benhocking (724439) <benjaminhockingNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Friday January 26, 2007 @03:28PM (#17773574) Homepage Journal

    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 sources are what the students should be using for their own research. One should not cite Wikipedia any more than one should cite Encyclopedia Brittanica - except for those very few rare cases, if any, where Wikipedia might actually be the primary source.

  • by MrAnnoyanceToYou (654053) <dylanNO@SPAMdylanbrams.com> on Friday January 26, 2007 @03:30PM (#17773642) Homepage Journal
    Then fail them. The inability to think critically is something that should be a prerequisite for a college degree. Sorry, you can't even think your way out of a paper box. Try again. Anyone can figure it out given time.
  • by Calyth (168525) on Friday January 26, 2007 @03:32PM (#17773682)
    Citing Wikipedia seems like a minor offense compared to how cheating seems to be getting more rampant.
    I've seen the quality of the students in my school decline, and I've seen first years out right try to look for the prof's editions of certain books to answer their homework.
    Well, finally someone got enough balls to do this, but it shouldn't have took them that long anyways.
  • Amen (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 26, 2007 @03:45PM (#17773940)
    When I first started college in 1975, I had been out of the Air Force for only a few months and had come home from Thailand a year earlier. There was a general studies sociology course about economics, which I took.

    On the second day in class the professors (there were three of them) were saying how all the world's workers would be making as little as workers in a third world country in ten years. I raised my hand and argued with them, pointing out that in Thailand (then a 3rd world country with little infrastructure; the nearest town had no electricity, gas, running water, or paved roads) although a worker made only $1000 a year, the economy was completely different. There you only had to pay a nickle to go about anywhere within an hour's drive, my extravagant bungalow had cost me $30 a month, I could feed myself and three whores in a nice restaraunt for a dollar, including beer, and so on. I argued that for labor prices to fall, the price of everything else had to fall (or hilarity ensues, as we say at /.)

    Their answer was that you have no housing costs if you own your home (!!!) and you could always live on beans and peanut butter.

    I called them idiots, stomped out of class (with several others following and several others laughing) and dropped the idiots' classes. Perhaps one of the morons are reading this now, and have finally realized that their predictions were wrong (and stupid) or at least over thirty years late. Or maybe, being the dumbasses they are, still believe it.

    Maybe all these inaccuracies I hear about on Wikipedia are from college professors? I've looked up lots of stuff on the wiki and have only found one bad item, and it was a bit of a nit anyway (Wikipedia stated only that the CrystalLens offered nearly glasses-free seeing, when I'd done away with glasses altogether; I corrected it by adding that "some patients can do away with glasses altogether" (I wonder if it stuck?).

    But at any rate (and more on topic), you don't cite the Encyclopedia Britannica (let alone Encarta!) in a college paper. Why is disallowing Wikipedia a bad thing? You use it as a starting point to your research, not the end point.
  • 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 geoffspear (692508) on Friday January 26, 2007 @03:47PM (#17773982) Homepage
    Interesting that the profs contribute. Part of the reason why wikipedia is better than Brittanica.

    Right, because Brittanica's contributors are all random 15-year-olds from the Internet. I think they actually exclude contributions from anyone they can prove has a tenure-track position anywhere, right?
  • by owlnation (858981) on Friday January 26, 2007 @03:50PM (#17774030)
    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 popular opinion, whether that's reality or wikiality regardless.

    That's wikifailure. And one more reason why it should never ever be cited.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 26, 2007 @03:50PM (#17774036)
    It is generally accepted that George Washington was the first president of the US. At what point do you take your reference to or cite that would be authoritive? What exactly would you use as the reference source that proves without a doubt that the statement is indeed true and who determines what the authoritive source should be for different facts?
    I assume that example with GW would be easy. How about the date that he was born or where he lived when he was 12 or how many days of school he missed? How about when or who discovered the Mississippi river? People could have been there years before but never wrote about it. Who is to say an entire team found it years earlier but never really cared enough to tell a local newspaper about it? How many people were employeed in coal mines in 1910? Are yo ushure? All "facts" are passed around and restated over and over again. Unless you actually witnessed the event yourself, you can not be sure it actually happened as others may have stated. Is using Wikipedia crossing the line? I don;t think so.
  • by zeath (624023) on Friday January 26, 2007 @03:53PM (#17774114) Homepage

    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 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.

    I did find some possibly unintended humor in your comment, though. With an edit war, just as any other war, it is always the victor that defines the facts.
  • by Intron (870560) on Friday January 26, 2007 @03:54PM (#17774136)
    Your take:

    "We only allow reputable sources in Wikipedia, but reputable sources are frequently mistaken {{fact}}.

    Virtually every peer-reviewed paper in mathematics contains some mistakes {{fact}}, and it wouldn't be difficult to enter all sorts of incorrect mathematical theorems into Wikipedia, carefully sourcing every single one of them with a peer-reviewed paper by an established research mathematician{{fact}}. Text books contain even more mistakes{{fact}}, and they are also considered reputable.

    Results reported in the scientific literature are often later overturned or invalidated, for example if the experimental results cannot be independently reproduced or fraud is discovered. Such a discredited source clearly does not support the claims made, but the average reader without broad knowledge of the literature in the field will not be able to distinguish reputable from discredited articles{{fact}}. For example, most people still believe that unprotected intercourse is to be avoided because of the risk of sexually transmitted diseases, unaware of the fact that the anti-depressant properties of semen have been known for several years[logic error].[1] Similarly, most laymen are not aware of the fact that the wearing of bras contributes to breast cancer[logic error].[2][3]"

    {{fact}} - you would need to cite something to convince me of any of these.

    [logic error] - might be true statements, but they do not support the conclusions you draw from them.
  • by gobbo (567674) <wrewrite@gmail.cSTRAWom minus berry> 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 Vellmont (569020) on Friday January 26, 2007 @04:03PM (#17774300)

    I think citing sources is vastly overrated. So what if I can find a source that states the first one was built in 1768?

    Well, I'm not sure what "vastly overrated" means in your context, but I think citing sources is certainly something that needs to be done.

    Will you ever find out that the vast majority of scholars actually agree that the first one was built in 1762? No, because the cited reference won't tell you that. Only a thorough and comprehensive study of the literature in the field will tell you that.

    That's a problem with ANY cited source in any source of information. Why cite sources at all then if referencing the source doesn't immediately give you the "right" answer?

    You've missunderstood the purpose of checking sources. It's not to give you the perfect answer, but to give someone who cares about accuracy the chance to check (and possibly correct) your sources of information. Without a source to the "The first one was made in 1762" fact, where are you going to even start in trying to verify that?
  • by Atomic6 (1011895) <atomiccosmos.gmail@com> on Friday January 26, 2007 @04:04PM (#17774310) Homepage
    Wikipedia does not allow original research, so all information on a page must be cited. Therefore, students can just cite the source that Wikipedia used to get their information.
  • by Profane MuthaFucka (574406) <busheatskok@gmail.com> on Friday January 26, 2007 @04:15PM (#17774568) Homepage Journal
    Sometimes professors disagree because they are not as informed as the primary experts in the field, and sometimes they disagree because they are the experts in the field.

    If for example you run into two cosmologists who don't agree with each other or with the information in Wikipedia, it just might be that they know more than the encyclopedia and are fighting with each other about a theory that only the two of them know about.

    I also had a Religion professor who disagreed with most of the people in his field about when the Bible was written down. He claimed that ALL of the OT was oral history before about 685, when it was written down very quickly as Babylonian captivity began. Was he wrong? Who knows. All you can say for sure is that he was an expert, he had his good reasons for believing what he believed, and he disagreed with a lot of people on that topic.

    Experts disagreeing with the encyclopedia is a much different thing than a layman disagreeing with the encyclopedia.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 26, 2007 @04:19PM (#17774650)
    But of course thats absurd. If scientific testing of the claim is not possible, then there is no 'correct' answer. Its a matter of personal opinion.
  • by yankpop (931224) on Friday January 26, 2007 @04:28PM (#17774826)

    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 documentation of the sources involved. For scholarly research the source of your material is as important as its content. It's fine for me to draw on subjective work, so long as I cite it properly and the reader is able to track down the source and check it out for themselves. You could also argue that I need to be objective in interpreting the subjective work of others, but that's still not as important as providing verifiable sources.

    The biggest drawback with wikipedia is that you can't do that. The information may be completely accurate and objective, but if you can't give a better source than "HanSolo666" it isn't worth squat.

    Wikipedia is still a good starting point, for a quick overview and a pointer to more substantial sources. If you use it that way that's great. However, if your literature search ends at Wikipedia you are not doing legitimate academic research.

    yp.

  • wikipedia (Score:3, Insightful)

    by minus_273 (174041) <<aaaaa> <at> <SPAM.yahoo.com>> 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.
  • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Friday January 26, 2007 @04:39PM (#17775040) Homepage Journal

    My wife teaches our 10 year old daughter at home. We have felt that it is the best in the long run, because we can tailor her learning to her individual learning style. We also get the added benefit of picking the curriculum.

    Amen to that. My girlfriend used to live in a commune and the kids in the commune decided to go to high school for the social aspect and universally ended up testing out of it completely (as in, "we don't have anything new to teach you" in spite of the fact that some of them were actually below high school age.

    It seems that since these kids had information presented to them in the context of enabling them to do things in which they were interested, they approached learning with the same eagerness as they approached playing games... they were sponges for knowledge. Meanwhile, I was in a GATE program in elementary school and the people running THAT program told me that I couldn't participate in their forays into Astronomy because I was too young. I mean, this is supposed to be the class that helps kids not get held back by the system and what are they doing? Holding me back.

    It seems that schools are more interested in not getting sued, than actually teaching children.

    To be fair, that's not entirely their fault... But then again, schools have a disturbing tendency to ignore the issues that lead to the lawsuits, so I guess maybe it is mostly their doing.

  • by IgnitusBoyone (840214) on Friday January 26, 2007 @04:41PM (#17775086)
    It does not matter who is right in this matter. You can't site encyclopedia's at the collage level and when I went to high school you could not use them there. Encyclopedia's are secondary sources ment to help you gain a quick understanding of what you are looking at. But they are not first hand citation material.

    This ban should be implied on all papers written after middle school. Go out read an article do your own research don't spit back an entry from world book.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • by badasscat (563442) <basscadet75.yahoo@com> on Friday January 26, 2007 @04:53PM (#17775314)
    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 say otherwise.

    I don't generally use wikipedia for real research (I'm well out of college and don't work in an academic field, so I don't often need to), so the topics I look up are usually more pop-culture oriented. But my last two searches came up with some pretty egregious errors and/or malicious edits. One of them was the article for WNEW-FM, which recently changed its call letters to WWFS. In two separate places, the article said WWFS "had reluctantly changed" their call letters back to WNEW on April 1, 2007. (This was not just a coincidental typo; there is no such plan by the station. Maybe it's an April Fool's joke.) My previous search was for Ami Onuki, the corresponding article stating that she was divorced - a 2005 internet rumor that has long-since been discredited.

    I made edits to both pages removing the offending non-facts. For all I know, whoever made the original edits have put them back since. This is a fundamental problem with wikipedia; it's not that anyone can edit, it's that human nature is often for people to be steadfast in their convictions, even if they're wrong. So while this notion that a large group of people editing articles will eventually result in the best accuracy is a fine ideal, the reality is that a small group of stubborn idiots hellbent on overwriting corrections to "their" pages can ruin it for everybody. That's true of anything in life that's open to the public, it's not just wikipedia. But it does mean that wikipedia can never be considered authoritative. Unfortunately, often the worst people in any community have the last word - and especially on the lesser-trafficked articles.

    A perfect example of the best and worst of wikipedia - how it can eventually work but can never be considered authoritative - is the entry for American Airlines flight 191. When I first visited this page, there was a whole mess of misinformation about supernatural nonsense both before and after the crash, and another section listing all sorts of tangential conspiracy theories and connections with 9/11 and even Comair flight 5191 (simply because they both had "191" in the flight number). It read like an article on the Weekly World News. I removed much of this stuff and changed the wording on some of what was left. I noted why I made the changes, saying those sections as written really had no place in an authoritative, factual article on this flight. Almost immediately (the same day), my edits were mostly reversed. An edit war then started, which I stayed out of. Up until the last time I checked, which was just now, those sections had stayed mostly intact.

    Finally, though, at least for the moment, it seems that most of the bad info has again been removed and some of my wording is now on the page in what remains. The supernatural section has been renamed "Almost victims and alleged premonitions", although one paragraph remains problematic and is labeled "citation needed" - I consider this paragraph urban legend. It should not be there, at least not as worded. The "history and media" section has had its 9/11 and Comair 5191 references removed.

    But after all that, *some* bad info is still there and anyone who visited this page in the meantime would have unknowingly been caught in the middle of an edit war between those who just wanted to present the facts of this crash and those who wanted to present a sensationalized Fox News-style tangle of conspiracy theories and superstitions.

    But this is why professors (good ones,
  • by MrAnnoyanceToYou (654053) <dylanNO@SPAMdylanbrams.com> on Friday January 26, 2007 @04:57PM (#17775408) Homepage Journal
    Great. So because you can get into a school and manage to get the funding, you're supposed to be guaranteed a degree? If a professor says, "I don't like Wikipedia references because of X, Y, and Z," and then someone turns in a paper with extensive references to it, there is a problem. A problem that merits significant marking down. Saying, "We categorically will not accept Wikipedia references," is kind of silly; using the Wiki as a starting point is a decent idea. So if you turn a paper in that relies completely upon it as a source, you are guilty of not paying attention and not thinking about something you should be taking seriously. Ergo you should fail, IMHO.

    The reason I'm not very interested in undergraduate academia anymore is because they don't tell you to get bent often enough. If you can get in, and pay some semblance of attention, you get out with a piece of paper. Is that bloody worthless or what? By lowering the bar so much, there is no real achievement in graduation.
  • by SomeRandomWag (933715) on Friday January 26, 2007 @05:27PM (#17775964)
    Peer review is really the only thing that Wikipedia has to do to be accepted as an academic source. As has been rightly noted, if there is an archive of the state of the article for any given time that you may cite it, it's all good.

    However, an academic quality peer review requires that everything be reviewed and accepted/commented/rejected by the world's leading experts in the field - something that is not trivial and we will never see adopted by Wikipedia. Just to be able to identify the relevant experts requires a level of knowledge that just can't be expected for a publication spanning such broad subject matter. This is precisely why the academic journal exists (think Nature, Journal of Applied Physics, etc.)

    And so wikipedia will always remain a "mere" encyclopedia. And surely everyone should know that citing an encyclopediqa article just doesn't fly...
  • by colinbrash (938368) on Friday January 26, 2007 @05:31PM (#17776038)
    Lot of people seem to think that because Wikipedia isn't "worse" than other encyclopedias that somehow it is therefore reasonable to cite. No one should be citing encyclopedias, except maybe second graders. (Even then, I'd argue it's probably important to get them started doing research the right way... but that's beside the point.)

    As has been mentioned way too many times by now, Wikipedia is fine for getting started on research. The nature of Wikipedia is such that it is a collection of information from other sources (sometimes, unfortunately, that source is only the mind of some random internet user). Those sources should (maybe) be cited. Wikipedia should not. (Feel free to use it as a works consulted, though!)
  • Re:Greatest minds (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Grant_Watson (312705) on Friday January 26, 2007 @06:13PM (#17776776)

    Wikipedia has a policy against being a primary source: No Original Research.

    What if the paper were citing Wikipedia policies in a discussion of online communities? There's always an exception.

  • 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 Goaway (82658) on Friday January 26, 2007 @06:57PM (#17777500) Homepage
    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, you have to read multiple sources to get the whole picture, and thus you can't just read Wikipedia.
  • by aardvarkjoe (156801) on Friday January 26, 2007 @07:29PM (#17778002)

    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.
  • by bhiestand (157373) on Friday January 26, 2007 @09:36PM (#17779380) Journal

    Use his problem-solving skills to obtain a copy of the source in question?

    What problem-solving skills would aardvarkjoe use? I would prefer if "problem-solving skills" did not involve copyright infringement or computer network misuse. Or should "problem-solving skills" involve changing the subject, turning a report about a given topic into a report about the holes in a school's journal subscriptions?

    Your inability to think of a solution does not imply that no solution exists, unless you set the criteria as "get the journal from this school library without influencing them in any way to obtain it on their own." May I suggest some solutions using a barometer?

    • Offer to give the librarian your wonderful barometer if she will obtain the required journals
    • Threaten to beat the librarian with your barometer if she does not obtain the required journals
    • Travel to another university and bribe a student there with your barometer in return for loaning you the journal
    • Threaten to beat the student at the other school with your barometer for failing to obtain your journal in time
    • Offer your barometer as collateral for your doppelgänger's school ID (at another school which has said journal), then use that ID to peruse the journal which you so desire
    • Go on television and offer your barometer as a reward for the first person who sends you the journal
    • Sell the barometer on the black barometer market to obtain the required funds to purchase the journal yourself
    • Tie a string to the barometer and use it to hypnotize the librarian, then get her to order a copy of the journal
    • Offer to assist your local senator with a large barometer donation to his campaign if he establishes a program to fund the purchase of missing journals for university libraries


    There. You now have 9 solutions which use a barometer. I am sure that, even though the school appears to be slightly underfunded, you will be able to obtain more tools than a mere barometer. I have found that telephones, friends (as available), the internet, and money work even better than barometers in many situations.
  • by theLOUDroom (556455) on Friday January 26, 2007 @10:00PM (#17779610)
    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 because your teachers drilled it into your head and you never questioned the reasoning behind it.

    The REASON why you weren't allowed to cite encyclopedias is so that you would learn how to use a library. Presuming you've now learned how to do that, there's no good reason not to recognize encyclopedias for just what they are: a convenient soure of commonly useful information.
    Once your goal is no longer to prove that you can do what your teacher tells you, but to effectively communicate, using commonly availbile, easy to find sources becomes a great idea.
  • by Life2Short (593815) on Friday January 26, 2007 @10:29PM (#17779798)
    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 there are some profs who are notorious for shooting from the hip. If requirements weren't made clear in the assignment, I can imagine a lot of people who would go to Wikipedia for some quick background, realize the whole thing was some gigantic intellectual circle jerk, and just hand in a paper. Fine, grade them down if you want, but I don't see how it follows that the contents of Wikipedia are worthless.

    Remember, the issue isn't whether Wikipedia should stand alone as the only reference, the issue is whether the history profs should be able to BAN ALL Wikipedia references because of content concerns.
  • by tyler_larson (558763) on Friday January 26, 2007 @10:45PM (#17779890) Homepage

    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 of information, then it should not be assumed to be factual.

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