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Hey, quite recently I have been commanded to work on an assignment for school, and I've noticed a trend that seems to increase in the number of times it recurrs. My friends and I are all wikipedia buffs, and as such, we often use wikipedia as a fail- safe method to get a general picture, for research, before we start to narrow our focus, however, more and more so, we find our sometimes unnerving educators, explicitly stating that wikipedia is prohibited as a research tool, as all of the sites bear no rational information. This annoys me, as I find wikipedia to be generally accurate, with rare exception, and am actually very interested in their cause. So, I am preparing a rhetoric arsenal in my battle.

Though, I do have a question. Why is it that educators are so annoyed with wikipedia, and why is it being attacked in the mainstream, as a far- from reputable source of information? Secondly, a teacher told me that the information on wikipedia changes every 7 minutes, this of course due to the vast amount of knowledge, and to people adding info, but its just as on this forum. Even if a wrong answer is stated, people quickly come to correct it. Right?!?

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If you're using it strictly to get a broad picture so you can narrow down your research, and you're not going to use direct citations from Wikipedia, what's the harm in starting there? How will your educators know, or do you also want to use Wikipedia as a source?

 

I've wondered myself if there wasn't some kind of memo circulated by the NEA about Wikis not being accurate. My 10 year old wasn't allowed to use Wikipedia for her 4th grade report on Christopher Columbus.

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For something I'd depend on (medical information), I use a different source. But for general ideas, I try Wikipedia.

 

Your teacher was wrong, by the way: there are hundreds of edits occurring on Wikipedia in a given minute. Statistically, however, the given page has only been edited about 18 times, so it's not that frequent. Most changes are not vandalism but minor tweaks, anyway.

 

You could also present this article about Wikipedia's accuracy. Then compare the costs of Wikipedia to Britannica.

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I beg to differ. Wikipedia, as Swansont noted, is a great starting point. However, as a reference, it stinks. As a quality reference, it really stinks. Just a few of the problems:

  • Wikipedia is constantly changing. Suppose you write a paper and use wikipedia as a reference. Five years later, I read your paper. Is your Wikipedia page still there? Maybe, maybe not. Is it the same reference you used? Probably not. Compare this to an encyclopedia reference. A proper reference includes the publication date. Five years later, I can go to the library and find the exact same reference you used.
  • The writing quality varies a lot, all the way from terrible to excellent. The graphics quality varies a bit, too. Wikipedia graphics do not vary as much in quality as does the writing -- but that is because most of the graphics in Wikipedia are lousy. Wikipedia is free. The writers may or may not be experts in the field, Wikipedia doesn't hand out graphics to people who are good at creating graphics (most technical writers are not), and the peer review is haphazard at best.
  • How does a naive reader know if they have just read one of the Wikipedia pages that would never make its way into an encyclopedia because it was written by and for crackpots? They answer is, they don't. The process by which encyclopedias are written filter out the garbage. Wikipedia is chock full of garbage.
  • The comparison against encyclopedias is a bit of a red herring. By the time one gets to high school, and certainly college, encyclopedias are not good references.

 

Prohibiting college-age students from using Wikipedia makes sense. College-aged students shouldn't be referencing encyclopedias, period. Prohibiting fourth graders? That might be a bit extreme. Who is going to read a fourth grader's report five years from now?

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As said by DH, it is good for general knowledge but not for research references. It is constantly changing and the reliability is not good enough to be references for a research paper.

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theo, the way to deal with ancient-minded idiots like the teachers who prohibit the use of wikipedia is to use wikipedia to get the original picture, and use the references cited in the articles as the quoted sources of information.

 

I suspect that there might be a slight misunderstanding between you and your teachers, though. It's quite common for teachers to say something like "and don't go copying and pasting stuff from wikipedia", which makes the students think the teacher said "wikipedia is awful and must not be used for anything at all, ever". Now of course it probably isn't as distinct as that as you're not an idiot.

 

My personal opinion is that as long as the article is properly referenced it's probably an excellent source of information and that anyone who doesn't understand that probably never wrote a decent research paper in their life and doesn't understand the very thing they're trying to forbid.

 

Having said that i'd have a long careful think about it before using it for any political information, for instance.

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[*] Wikipedia is constantly changing. Suppose you write a paper and use wikipedia as a reference. Five years later, I read your paper. Is your Wikipedia page still there? Maybe, maybe not. Is it the same reference you used? Probably not. Compare this to an encyclopedia reference. A proper reference includes the publication date. Five years later, I can go to the library and find the exact same reference you used.

 

I agree you shouldn't use Wikipedia (or any encyclopedia) as a cited source, but changing versions isn't actually a problem. Every version of every article still exists and is accessible, even if it only existed for 30 seconds before somebody else changed it. Just click on the "history" tab. The only exceptions are if the article itself was deleted (although no topic you'd be researching would get deleted), or if blatant vandalism was removed, something only administrators have the power to do permanently (the vast majority of vandalism is undone but not deleted by normal editors).

 

[*]How does a naive reader know if they have just read one of the Wikipedia pages that would never make its way into an encyclopedia because it was written by and for crackpots? They answer is, they don't. The process by which encyclopedias are written filter out the garbage. Wikipedia is chock full of garbage.

 

And this mainly applies to the more obscure articles. The main articles have been researched far more rigourously than you would find in an Encyclopedia. In fact, the 1911 edition Britannica (which is public domain) is sometimes used as a source for articles where the knowledge base wouldn't have been overturned since 1911, but most articles can't be directly copied in any length because they fail Wikipedia's standards on multiple counts. 1911 is the example because it's public domain, but I've looked at more up to date versions and the same problems persist.

 

Also, remember that articles are rated. A "featured," "good," or "A" article is going to be a pretty reliable source of information. It still helps if you're familiar with the workings of Wikipedia, though, since it is true that you might have happened upon it in the few minutes between when somebody posts something ridiculous and when somebody else corrects it. Familiarity with talk pages and page histories can almost completely mitigate that risk, though.

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I have found the mathematics on Wikipedia to be better in general than the physics. It is as may people have said a great place to start and i do use it.

 

 

Better references for maths are

 

i) planetmath

ii)mathworld

 

As for the other subjects I cannot say.

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Alright, yes I admit that my intent had little to do with actual referencing, as I find the teacher in question to be rather ignorant, and really does not care to check sources and citations. I was just interested in credibility, and whether it is really fair that as early as elementary school, wikipedia is considered a greatly flawed source, to the extent that it is banned, and the like. I particularly like Hermanntrude's idea; finding the initial reference articles on wikipedia, and using them as research material. I'll do that from now on. Cool responses everyone!:)

Edited by Theophrastus
Grammatical error
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I beg to differ. Wikipedia, as Swansont noted, is a great starting point. However, as a reference, it stinks.

I wonder if poor 'ole Phi for All would have been properly cited if this were instead a wikipedia entry. ;)

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The science and math pages are generally well written, well organized, go into significant depth, and have many citations. As an aggregator of knowledge, wiki is indispensable.

 

As for a cited source, I encourage it for elementary through high school students. As others have said, beyond that point students should cite original sources of knowledge.

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My friends and I are all wikipedia buffs, and as such, we often use wikipedia as a fail- safe method to get a general picture, for research, before we start to narrow our focus,

 

That is good, and you don't need to mention you did this. Most wiki articles will have a references section, and these are often good enough to cite in a paper.

 

So, I am preparing a rhetoric arsenal in my battle.

 

How about this:

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v438/n7070/full/438900a.html

Nature, of course, being a very prestigious journal.

 

Though, I do have a question. Why is it that educators are so annoyed with wikipedia, and why is it being attacked in the mainstream, as a far- from reputable source of information?

 

It is a non-expert anonymous source. Anyone can edit it. However, the history of changes is viewable and you can view the previous versions. If for some reason you do cite wikipedia, be sure to cite a static page for that date.

 

Secondly, a teacher told me that the information on wikipedia changes every 7 minutes, this of course due to the vast amount of knowledge, and to people adding info, but its just as on this forum. Even if a wrong answer is stated, people quickly come to correct it. Right?!?

 

Often they do, but some errors can go unnoticed for a very long time, especially in articles that get little attention.

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It should be noted, also, that some experts in a field will take it upon themselves to make sure a section is correct and up to date. I've done this for snake locomotion, and I've completely re-written some of the other biomechanics articles. I keep an eye on all of them, to ensure continued accuracy.

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I have two problems with it. First, for a layman (which will the bulk of those accessing the articles) it will not be easily clear which article are maintained by a specialist and which are a complete mess (I have seen both in my fields). Likewise the indicated references are often not very good or are in a number of cases misquoted. Generally this should not be too much of a problem for gaining information on a very basic level, though.

The second issue I got is far less tangible. From my experience (and that of others) google and wikipedia have generated a generation of students expecting easy to find "one-click-answers". The result is that any information they have tends to be very fragmented, which becomes very evident in discussions but also increasingly in courseworks. This, of course is not the sole work of search engines, as the prevalence of multiple choice exams and strong reliance of a number of school systems on memorization of tidbits rather than comprehension. However at least to my limited experience the trend appears to have accelerated up to the point that I found direct quotes from wikipedia in undergrad theses, usually about topics not within the author's field. That is, biological info in phyisics thesis and vice versa.

 

I did try for a time to maintain quality on at least a subset of my field however, at some point it did not appear worth the effort.

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Wikipedia is generallly accurate but if you're serious about using the information presented you should click the sources at the bottom of the page...

 

I've always found teachers' disapproval to the 'use' of wikipedia to be unnecessary.

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I've always found teachers' disapproval to the 'use' of wikipedia to be unnecessary.

 

I'm going out on a limb and saying that I understand why teachers say that. Of course there are proper ways of using Wikipedia, and perhaps there should be a proper amount of educational resources devoted to teaching students how to use the internet correctly.

 

Maybe some of you have never been in a non-AP class, but saying "You can't use Wikipedia" is much clearer to the average American than "You can use Wikipedia if you use it correctly," so I understand their concern as much as I dislike it.

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  • 4 weeks later...

I find Wikipedia to be often an invaluable resource. It can give a flavour of a topic and the references frequently provide an entree to in depth assessments.

 

Since I believe nothing I read anywhere until I have seen it substantiated and confirmed by multiple sources I find no problem with the occassions when Wikipedia is flawed. These become apparent, or more likely because one has moved on they become irrelevant.

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