Why you can't cite Wikipedia in my class

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Why you can't cite Wikipedia in my class
Authors: Neil L. Waters [edit item]
Citation: Communications of the ACM 50 (9): 15-17. 2007 September. Association for Computing Machinery.
Publication type: Journal article
Peer-reviewed: No
DOI: 10.1145/1284621.1284635.
Google Scholar cites: Citations
Link(s): Paper link
Added by Wikilit team: Added on initial load
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Why you can't cite Wikipedia in my class is a publication by Neil L. Waters.

[edit] Abstract

The case for an online open-source encyclopedia is enormously appealing. What's not to like? It gives the originators of entries a means to publish, albeit anonymously, in fields they care deeply about and provides editors the opportunity to improve, add to, and polish them, a capacity not afforded to in-print articles. Above all, open sourcing marshals legions of unpaid, eager, frequently knowledgeable volunteers, whose enormous aggregate labor and energy makes possible the creation of an entity—Wikipedia, which today boasts more than 1.6 million entries in its English edition alone—that would otherwise be far too costly and labor-intensive to see the light of day. In a sense it would have been technologically impossible just a few years ago; open sourcing is democracy in action, and Wikipedia is its most ubiquitous and accessible creation.

Yet I am a historian, schooled in the concept that scholarship requires accountability and trained in a discipline in which collaborative research is rare. The idea that the vector-sum products of tens or hundreds of anonymous collaborators could have much value is, to say the least, counterintuitive for most of us in my profession. We don't allow our students to cite printed general encyclopedias, much less open-source ones. Further, while Wikipedia compares favorably with other tertiary sources for articles in the sciences, approximately half of all entries are in some sense historical. Here the qualitative record is much spottier, with reliability decreasing in approximate proportion to distance from "hot topics" in American history [1]. For a Japan historian like me to perceive the positive side of Wikipedia requires an effort of will.

[edit] Research questions

"Waters explains why he led the history department at Middlebury College to adopt the following policy: "(1) Students are responsible for the accuracy of information they provide, and they cannot point to Wikipedia or any similar source that may appear in the future to escape the consequences of errors. (2) Wikipedia is not an acceptable citation, even though it may lead one to a citable source.""

Research details

Topics: Cross-domain student readership [edit item]
Domains: History, Education [edit item]
Theory type: N/A [edit item]
Wikipedia coverage: Main topic [edit item]
Theories: "N/A" [edit item]
Research design: Conceptual [edit item]
Data source: N/A [edit item]
Collected data time dimension: N/A [edit item]
Unit of analysis: Website [edit item]
Wikipedia data extraction: Live Wikipedia [edit item]
Wikipedia page type: N/A [edit item]
Wikipedia language: English [edit item]

[edit] Conclusion

"What can be done? The answer depends on the goal. If it is to make Wikipedia a truly authoritative source, suitable for citation, it cannot be done for any general tertiary source, including the Encyclopaedia Britannica. For an anonymous open-source encyclopedia, that goal is theoretically, as well as practically, impossible. If the goal is more modest—to make Wikipedia more reliable than it is—then it seems to me that any changes must come at the expense of its open-source nature. Some sort of accountability for editors, as well as for the originators of entries, would be a first step, and that, I think, means that editors must leave a record of their real names. A more rigorous fact-checking system might help, but are there enough volunteers to cover 1.6 million entries, or would checking be in effect reserved for popular entries?

Can one move beyond the world of cut-and-dried facts to check for logical consistency and reasonableness of interpretations in light of what is known about a particular society in a particular historical period? Can it be done without experts? If you rely on experts, do you pay them or depend on their voluntarism?"

[edit] Comments

"Comments contribution discussing a nationally-famous incident in the US."

[edit] References

1. Rosenzweig, R. Can history be open source? Journal of American History 93, 1 (June 2006), 117–146.

2. Tucker, J. (editor and translator). Ogyu Sorai's Philosophical Masterworks. Association for Asian Studies and University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 2006, 12–13, 48–51; while Ogyu sought to redefine the sources of Tokugawa legitimacy, his purpose was clearly to strengthen the authority of the Tokugawa shogunate.

Further notes[edit]