Higher ed and Wikipedia go great together

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/07/23/wikinost.html

Scholars’ skepticism about Wikipedia also stems from its community-authorship model

Hm. Sometimes it stems from it’s utter inaccuracy, actually. For example, see the wikipedia page on the Balangiga uprising (or masacre as it’s known, too), which downplays the brutality of the American forces in the Philippines:

And the coverage of the wars in Yugoslavia in the 1990s are entirely unreliable, as there is a low level war of knowledge production happening there.

I also have to say that many scholars already are familiar with working with community authorship. Many text books are not written by an individual, but usually several people working together. Additionally, essay based books are similar, usually includes a couple of editors and a selection of scholars who have expertise on a larger issue. Many people work in the community authorship mode, even in fields that are known for more individualistic modes of working (historians).

I’m well aware that my students are probably going to look to wikipedia. I acknowledge that and tell them that there can be problems with the accuracy of wikipedia, depending on the topic. I encourage them to instead of just accepting what they read there, to look at the foot notes and go further into the topic that way (if it’s for a paper or the like). I know of other professors who have their students actually write wikipedia entries based on their own (secondary source) research.

This is a very interesting point, too:

But Wikipedia has forced academics to re-examine how they validate sources, he said. “We should have been doing that all along. We should have been approaching an Encyclopaedia Britannica article with a certain level of distrust and questioning: What are the biases of people writing this? What are they leaving out? What communities are not included in this conversation? Just the newness of the approach of Wikipedia forced us to adopt a certain level of distrust, which I think is healthy in any academic quest for answers.”

If nothing else, maybe questioning things we see as “authoritative” is a good byproduct of wikipedia… however, I suspect that most people just do what they do for other encyclopedias, which is just accept it as “fact” and move on with their day.


“Never cite Wikipedia!” was drilled in to me during my degree, but there’s nothing wrong with using it as a jumping off point.


Sure, I have no problem with that. I do think it’s important to drill into people’s heads that it can be inaccurate.


Absolutely, it can be really handy to get people going if they’re not sure where to start with studying. Me, I’m a natural curious reader anyway, but if it helps students I’m all for it. We all have to start somewhere.


Roger that!

Also from the fact that entries can be changed so easily, which is more than, as Corey puts it, “confusion about whether a world-editable encyclopedia could be a reliable source.” It’s all too easy for just about anyone to edit entries, for who knows what reasons. I do agree that alerting students to that is a good idea – so they can learn to be more wary about their sources, but especially so they can learn to be more wary of Wikipedia.


Now if only we could get a fact-checker in residence for those IP addresses assigned to Congress that keep making anonymous edits to politically sensitive wiki pages…



Also, many of the references cited at the bottom of many entries are solid sources.


(Disclaimer: I worked for a time as the Director of Tech Operations for the Wikimedia Foundation, which manages the infrastructure of Wikipedia)

Higher education is a big push for Wikipedia - they’re big fans of having research papers posted there in fact, because it adds to the overall worldwide corpus of knowledge.

As any work on Wikipedia is ideally supposed to be cited, I’d imagine it would make a great initial source for research. As an added bonus, students can give back to the encyclopedia as well - update sources and citations where appropriate, including their own research if appropriate.

If I was still a student, I know I’d be super-excited to have my hard work on a paper not just end up in a closet (or I guess nowadays in some random cloud storage), but instead contribute meaningfully to the overall public knowledge on a given topic.


I use Wikipedia as a cleaner interfaced imdb. Wookieepedia however is great.


I tell people “every search begins with Google, but that is not where it should end.” The same advice is good with Wikipedia, especially with controversial matters that go into edit wars.


sigh IMDB USED to have a very clean interface. I used to call it the greatest thing to come out of Wales since the longbow. Now…Not so much.



“No one believes that Wikipedia is the gospel truth. Everyone recognizes where the stuff on Wikipedia comes from. It’s community-generated. It can be flawed. It can be problematic.”

Actually it is gospel truth. Wikipedia’s definition of “Neutral point of view” includes this little gem:

Wikipedia articles on history and religion draw from a religion’s sacred texts as well as from modern archaeological, historical, and scientific sources.

They don’t point this out in their bible stories history articles.

I’m not sure of your point here? If the article was on religious history, you’d include sacred texts and interpretation, yeah? Religious texts are a historical and archeological source, as much as they are sacred texts.


Same here. I tell my students they can use Wikipedia as a tool but never as a primary source.




I always tell my students, on the first day of a class, go ahead, use Wikipedia. I love Wikipedia, and use it myself. It’s a great first baby step. Then the second step is like face planting yourself hard into concrete.


It doesn’t say “religious history” (whatever you mean by that). It ambiguously says “articles on history and religion”. Their so-called “History” articles are Bible stories, sourced to the Bible (via “Biblical archaeologists” and “Bible historians”). If they were based on modern archaeological, historical, and scientific sources according to modern academic standards of scholarship they would not have these fables.
If Wikipedia wanted the Bible was to be treated on the same footing as other archaeological and historical evidence they wouldn’t need to decree this special rule in NPOV.

I told my students that Wikipedia is a great place to start research, but a terrible place to finish.


As someone with almost 10,000 edits I would not trust a single thing I read in Wikipedia. Moreso if there’s even a little bit of controversy on the subject of the article. It can be a good place to find sources, but keep in mind it’s entirely possible that someone with an ax to grind and a lot of free time removed any sources they didn’t like.
Some articles with thousands of daily hits are written by 2-3 people who don’t let anyone else make any changes, etc, etc.