• August 31, 2015

Wikipedia Comes of Age

Wikipedia Comes of Age 1

Michael Morgenstern for The Chronicle Review

Enlarge Image
close Wikipedia Comes of Age 1

Michael Morgenstern for The Chronicle Review

It seems like a lifetime ago when I would stop into a Barnes and Noble to look up a fact in one of the books in the reference section. Or call a film-buff friend to settle some disagreement about who starred in a movie. But what seems like a lifetime was actually only a short time ago.

The pre-Internet "phone a friend" world that marked those days faded with the rise of the Internet and, more specifically, with the spectacular success of Wikipedia, which marks its 10-year anniversary this month. In the decade since its launch, we have struggled as a culture to keep up with the changes resulting from the enormous paradigm shift Wikipedia has created. But 10 years of perspective is not without its advantages. I would argue that we are now in a position to catch our breath and break old molds to take advantage of Wikipedia's greater potential.

We all acknowledge that the Internet is evolving at a dizzying pace. From the point of view of information delivery, it is fascinating to watch the way in which layers of authority have begun to emerge. That development should come as no surprise—a natural progression in any new knowledge system is for it to divide into layers of information authority. Not all information is created equal. The bottom layers (the most ubiquitous, whose sources are the most ephemeral, and with the least amount of validation) lead to layers with greater dependability, all the way to the highest layers, made up mostly of academic resources maintained and validated by academic publishers that use multiple peer reviews, trained editors, and scholarly reviewers. When the system is effective, the layers serve to reinforce one another through clear pathways that allow queries to move from one layer to another with little resistance.

The rapid evolution of Wikipedia in relation to academic research demonstrates that phenomenon. Not long ago, publishers like myself would groan when someone talked about how Wikipedia was effectively replacing reference publishing, especially for students. But my perspective has changed. As Wikipedia has grown, it has become increasingly clear that it functions as a necessary layer in the Internet knowledge system, a layer that was not needed in the analog age. A study carried out by Alison Head and Michael Eisenberg, published in a March 2010 edition of the Web journal First Monday, surveyed university students about their research habits and, in particular, how they begin research projects. Most of the nearly 2,500 students who responded said they consult Wikipedia, but when questioned more deeply, it became clear that they use it for, as one student put it, "pre-research." In other words, to gain context on a topic, to orient themselves, students start with Wikipedia.

That makes perfect sense. Through user-generated efforts, Wikipedia is comprehensive, current, and far and away the most trustworthy Web resource of its kind. It is not the bottom layer of authority, nor the top, but in fact the highest layer without formal vetting. In this unique role, it therefore serves as an ideal bridge between the validated and unvalidated Web.

Some are concerned that students and researchers are confused about the authority of Wikipedia, using it interchangeably with peer-reviewed scholarly material, but I would argue that just the opposite is happening. That such a high percentage of students in the study indicated they do not cite Wikipedia as a formal source, or admit to their professors they use it, confirms that they are very aware of the link it represents in the information-authority chain.

That last fact is critical. For a knowledge system to function effectively, its users must have an intuitive understanding of the layers it contains. Today, when starting a serious research project, students are faced with an exponentially larger store of information than previous generations, and they need new tools to cut through the noise. Intuitively they are using Wikipedia as one of those tools, creating a new layer of information-filtering to help orient them in the early stages of serious research. As a result, Wikipedia's role as a bridge to the next layer of academic resources is growing stronger.

How is that happening? Take the case of a project undertaken by the academic music community. In 2006 a large group of musicologists began discussing, on an academic listserv, their students' use of Wikipedia. One scholar issued a challenge: Wikipedia is where students are starting research, whether we like it or not, so we need to improve its music entries. That call to arms resonated, and music scholars worked hard to improve the quality of Wikipedia entries and make sure that bibliographies and citations pointed to the most reliable resources. As a result, Oxford University Press experienced a tenfold increase in Wikipedia-referred traffic on its music-research site Grove Music Online. Research that began on Wikipedia led to (the more advanced and peer-validated) Grove Music, for researchers who were going on to do in-depth scholarly work. The rise in Grove traffic alerted me to the music Wikipedia project, but I assume that other such projects that have passed me by yielded similar positive results.

My opinion of Wikipedia, like the tool itself, has radically evolved over time. Not only am I now supportive of Wikipedia, but I feel that it can play a vital role in formal educational settings—something that five years ago I never would have imagined saying. To go further, while I do agree that teaching information literacy is important, I do not agree with those who argue that the core challenge is to educate students and researchers about how to use Wikipedia. As we have seen, students intuitively understand much of that already.

The key challenge for the scholarly community, in which I include academic publishers such as Oxford University Press, is to work actively with Wikipedia to strengthen its role in "pre-research." We need to build stronger links from its entries to more advanced resources that have been created and maintained by the academy.

It is not an easy task to overcome the prejudices against Wikipedia in academic circles, but accomplishing that will serve us all and solidify an important new layer of knowledge in the online-information ecosystem. Wikipedia's first decade was marked by its meteoric rise. Let's mark its second decade by its integration into the formal research process.

Casper Grathwohl is vice president and publisher of digital and reference content for Oxford University Press.


1. fred_bauder - January 08, 2011 at 03:48 pm

This is a good perspective and I'll forward this article to the Wikipedia mailing lists I subscribe too. External links from Wikipedia articles to peer-reviewed sources such as Grove Music are usually welcome as is use of them as references in articles.

There is one troublesome matter mentioned, however, if a person uses a Wikipedia article in their research, whether they are a high school student or an Oxford don, they should cite it; to do otherwise is plagiarism. I am not talking about copying from it, that is another issue and is, in fact, permitted by the copyright licenses Wikipedia uses provided the terms of the licenses are complied with.

Fred Bauder

2. jonawbrey - January 09, 2011 at 12:52 am

“There is one troublesome matter mentioned, however, if a person uses a Wikipedia article in their research, whether they are a high school student or an Oxford don, they should cite it; to do otherwise is plagiarism.”

Translation: “Do as we say, not as we do.”

3. thekohser - January 09, 2011 at 12:53 am

If "pre-research" means "I want to know what the average nutball thinks about this topic", then Wikipedia is a good place to start, as is Usenet.

Fred Bauder above leaves a link, so I'll also leave a link:

4. seth_finkelstein - January 09, 2011 at 01:24 pm

I'm not an academic. But as a longtime observer and critic of Wikipedia, I'd contend that academics who support it are cutting their own throats. You make what I call the "extortion" argument - that Wikipedia is so popular that sophisticated professionals must work for it for free, donating their scarce time and energy to bail-out its failings (e.g. articles can be vandalized at any time by anyone, so must be constantly defended against this vulnerability). But you're doing this for an organization which will then strip out any credit for the unpaid effort, disrespect your expertise in the process of requiring you to constantly argue with cranks and bureaucrats, and you'll see this all turned around as an argument cut your funding. As well as having the main promoter go around asking a $50,000-$75,000 speaking fee for telling a story to businesspeople about the possibility of getting others to do the same thing. I assert there is something wrong with this picture.

As a technical note, when you talk of a "tenfold increase in Wikipedia-referred traffic" that's the sort of factoid which often gets echoed without any checking or context. Wikipedia articles are often re-used by spam websites, so it's entirely possible to have the entire traffic increase be from the activity of web crawlers and site scrapers. At the very least, there should be some burden on the claimant to investigate this, as it currently reads like a marketing pitch.

Note the links to your site might only last until someone, anyone, in the entire world, decides you have may have violated Wikipedia's many, many, article policies, and then drags you into a long, long, discussion about whether you have a "conflict of interest" and are being self-promotional.

I'll also leave a link, to a column I wrote:

"Inside, Wikipedia is more like a sweatshop than Santa's workshop"

5. jonawbrey - January 09, 2011 at 05:16 pm


I keep getting a Page Not Found error when I try to post a comment on this article.

6. jonawbrey - January 09, 2011 at 05:22 pm

It seems like a lifetime ago when I spent an entire week searching the Internet to track down the university library that would be so kind as to mail me a hard copy of a decade-old commencement address, all so that the authors for whom I was copy-editing would be qualified to certify “with copy in hand” the page number of a quotation they wanted to use. Their publisher would accept nothing less, and rightly so. I have reason to believe that comparable standards of scholarship still reign in many circles.

Looking back, the main influence of Wikipedia has been to lower the standards of journalism and scholarship in every circle where its influence prevails -- all save pub-betting, of course, or any court where hard cash is king -- to the point where Wikipediot Ways of “reporting” and “researching” have actually begun to seem “normal” to many who once lived by far better norms.

That is occasion for dismay, at least, among those who know what's at stake.

7. __jn__ - January 10, 2011 at 01:22 am

The problem with Wikipedia is its chaotic system of internal governance, which is reminiscent of early tribal civilisations, and its vulnerability to social entrepreneurs of all colours.

New articles advertised on its main page (DYK) are unchecked by any editorial process and frequently tendentious.

Self-selection means that editors holding extreme views for or against a subject are much more likely to contribute to the corresponding article than knowledgeable people.

Unethical writing and defamations are rife. As it seems fashionable to leave a link, here is one:


Caveat emptor.

8. uconnche - January 10, 2011 at 09:15 am

A few years ago I stopped complaining about Wikipedia and actually made it an assignment. My students copy and paste their research and citations into Wikipedia articles to make them better. Their citations reflect peer-reviewed work from print scholarly journals.

9. wilson44691 - January 10, 2011 at 09:35 am

In April 2008 I made this same basic argument about scholarly participation in the Wikipedia project, although not so eloquently:


The comments posted on my essay were mixed, to say the least, and remarkably after almost three years some of the same complainers reappear here with the same message of scholarly doom. The Wikipedia system has survived and flourished, though, and at least in my circles the number of scholarly participants has greatly increased.

10. bcjung - January 10, 2011 at 11:38 am

Though Wikipedia may be used to start a search for information, I do not allow my students to use Wikipedia as a reference for their research papers. Currently, there is no way for someone to verify the accuracy of the content in a Wikipedia article, nor is there a way to contact the author(s) of such articles. Students should learn what scholarly research is, and they do this by conducting research and evaluating the sources they use. Wikipedia is not an appropriate source for academic research.

11. __jn__ - January 10, 2011 at 12:34 pm

Here is another link, a bar chart created by the Wikimedia Foundation in 2009, illustrating the demographics of Wikipedia editors:


The salient points:

- 85% of Wikipedia editors are male.

- 25% are minors (below 18).
- 50% are below 22 years of age.
- 75% are below 30 years of age.

- About half have no higher education, and/or are still in primary or secondary school.

- 70% are not in a relationship.

- Close to 90% do not have children.

Few of us would buy an encyclopedia, covering everything from history and politics to pop music and pornography, if we knew it were written and administered by a publishing team reflecting these demographics.

Wikipedia is free. You get what you pay for.

Yes, it is possible to find good content in Wikipedia. The trouble is it is mixed with the bad and the ugly, and it is not always apparent which is which.

12. ellenhunt - January 10, 2011 at 12:46 pm

What is astonishing to me is that there is not scholarship about Wikipedia's operations. I see a problem far worse than "self-selection." I see a system degenerating from turning an encyclopedia into politics. My opinion is that its accuracy peaked about 2003, and has degraded continuously ever since. Number of articles has increased, but accuracy has continued to drop.

In my surveys, Wikipedia's technical articles are decent where they exist, once in a while better than any textbook. Mathematical formulas, physics and chemistry are rarely matters of concern. But history, religion, gurus, etcetera is garbage. Any group that has a membership able to allocate manpower to slanting, bowdlerizing or out and out fabrication of its articles of interest wins.

Jimmy Wales is in denial about it. He expects anyone complaining to document before and after images for him. And if they do, then he places a temporary lock on it, with the requirement that the editors work it out. Jimmy Wales likes gurus also. So he is uninterested in any information that exposes such people's real lives.

Jimmy Wales is a nice man. But he simply doesn't care about accuracy and has an astonishingly naive view of the goodness of human nature. Jimmy believes so strongly in his brainchild that nothing will shake it.

Scholars need to study Wikipedia seriously and thoroughly. Articles need to be published that I am sure will really hurt Jimmy's feelings and show Wikipedia to be less accurate overall than High School history texts. And Loewen has already published that those American K-12 textbooks are less accurate history than books published under Stalin's rule of the USSR.

To do so requires deep knowledge of history. I evaluate Wikipedia where I have studied an area deeply. In every case it was found wanting. The failure of scholars to attack this head-on, and the pass given because an article might be ok for a few days or hours, has to end.

I will also note that Wikipedia has no real history. It has short-term history only. Nobody can reall even go back through and see what all the page versions were. Yes, Jimmy says it's there, but it is not practically usable and it only covers a few months.

At the very least, Wikipedia needs to have complete history of all pages and records of all editors going back to the original article. Those history pages should be easily available and selectable online, by date.

This is why I no longer bother editing any Wikipedia article that is not purely technical. I don't bother because: A. It consumes huge amounts of time. B. I put in the effort to 'win' the argument by raising a ruckus and wading through the swamp of liars, fools and bureaucrats. But if I go back in 6 months or a year, the article is back where it was - garbage.

If Wikipedia wants to continue into the future, it needs to grow up. That means it needs to start freezing articles permanently, and at the very least require that changing of historical and religion-related articles have a very high bar. That bar should require exposure of the real names and qualifications of any editor desiring to change them.

Jimmy Wales will never do this unless he is forced to. He will only do it kicking and screaming, and it probably will require that he be removed from Wikipedia forever. He did a good job starting something. But what he as now is worse than nothing for non-technical subjects.

13. ellenhunt - January 10, 2011 at 12:49 pm

But what he has created is now worse than nothing for non-technical subjects.

14. samakovitis - January 10, 2011 at 01:05 pm

Incidentaly, this article resonates to what I was telling MSc students in my MIS course just yesterday. Wikis as a concept do reflect an averaging of common perception, I.e. an agreed reality, which doesn't go down very well with academic communities. I agree as an academic. Whether you reference it or not, Wikipedia is not a legitimate academic source.
We have to accept, however, that wikis are being used whether we like it or not. How to use them, in the University context, is what we should be trying to teach now. So long as students appreciate their precise value, this os acceptable.
I typically ask them to use wikis only as a platform (a fists layer) of information mining and drill down until they reach authoritative sources, always verifying validity. Wikipedia, same as all that comes with mobile Internet capability (and I mean students being able to gather for info in class through their mobile phones) is a new dimension of the learning experience; leveraging it is necessary for upgrading our students' knowledge potential.

15. daviddc6 - January 10, 2011 at 01:26 pm

None of the commentators have addressed the main point of the article, which is that Wikipedia might be used as a launching point for more scholarly content. One of Wikipedia's greatest assets is the external links at the end of every article. But the problem with using it to link to content such as Oxford's is that so much of it is behind pay walls.

16. __jn__ - January 10, 2011 at 01:40 pm

@daviddc6 -- by all means, more academics joining the Wikipedia fray and adding links and material sourced to actual research, rather than newspapers and blogs, will have a positive effect on Wikipedia quality. Perhaps Wikipedia will eventually have more than 50% of contributors over the age of 22. :)

And yes, it is a pity that so much scholarly content is hidden behind paywalls. Short of these paywalls being removed altogether, universities stepping forward to facilitate log-in access to Lexis Nexis, JSTOR, and other such databases for established Wikipedia contributors would be helpful.

17. jonawbrey - January 10, 2011 at 02:36 pm

Yes, it's true, I could repeat all of the things that I have written about Wikipediot Culture over the past 5 years, and all of it would still be true. All that's changed is that the danger to the minds of students and to society at large is even greater today than it was 10 years ago.

Though many emphasize content issues, that is only part of the story. Far worse is the mis-education in the ways of inquiry and the warping of personal character to which even the most well-intentioned participants are eventually subjected.

Academic researchers and journalists on all sides have let us down. They do little more than recycle Wikipediot PR and blow pretty bubbles of wishful theory that are wholly divorced from hard knocks observation of what actually happens on Wikipedia Island on a day to day basis. It begins to look like it may be a decade or so before the real effects of Wikipedia Culture begin to make an impact on the dreamy bubble worlds of academics and media hacks. It won't be pretty -- let's hope it won't be too late.

Anyone who dares to have a real discussion about the realities of Wikipedia is invited to join the fray at The Wikipedia Review:


18. thekohser - January 10, 2011 at 03:06 pm

Well, as long as Dr. Wilson is going to leave his link, I might as well leave mine... for people who don't know how much nonsense is going on behind the scenes at Wikipedia, but are curious to know:


19. g8briel - January 10, 2011 at 04:19 pm

It is odd how many of the people who are ranting against Wikipedia clearly do not know how it works. If you are going to take the time to write a tirade against poorly researched Wikipedia articles at least you could do the same here. There are drawbacks to Wikipedia, clearly. But many of the complaints that get brought up over and over have already been dealt with by the Wikipedia community.

For those of you resorting to name calling ("Wikipediot" may be clever, but adds nothing to the conversation) it does not really help your argument. Your comments end up being on par with Wikipedia vandals.

20. jonawbrey - January 10, 2011 at 06:14 pm

Re: G8briel

FYI, the term “Wikipediot” is established usage for a “True Believer” in the doctrines of Wikipedism, as distinguished from a simple “Wikipedian”, who might be anyone who is now, or ever has been a Wikipedia “editor”, or even just a Wikipedia reader.

But I know how you feel. I once got upset with various Wikipedists for their pejorative use of the term “wikilawyer”. I felt it was defamatory, prejudicial, and unprofessional to disparage a whole profession based on objections to the conduct of a small minority. But I was severely chastised by these same Wikipedists, who said, “That is just the word that we use here”, and that I had no choice but to bow to local usage.

So I guess usage is as usage does ...

21. thekohser - January 10, 2011 at 09:31 pm

@G8briel ("many of the complaints that get brought up over and over have already been dealt with by the Wikipedia community")


How are the unsourced biographies of living people coming along? Last year, there were (I believe) 20,000+ of them. Now, you still have 13,000+ of them. That may be progress, but is that "dealt with"?


How is the access to pornographic images by minors coming along? I heard that the consultant buddy that Sue Gardner hired had a whole list of recommended changes in policy, and that the Foundation was putting together a "working group" to figure out implementation. How is that coming?

How goes the effort to install a WYSIWYG editing feature, to make the wiki mark-up easier to use by non-white-male-geeks? I see they have one installed on Jimbo's for-profit site, but not on Wikipedia.

Is this how the problems are "dealt with" at Wikipedia?

22. djpresidente - January 13, 2011 at 06:38 pm

I think it's worth echoing daviddc6's concern that most of these posts don't actually respond to the author's main claim that Wikipedia is and should be used as a starting place for research. For academics who were established in their field long before the advent of JSTOR online searches or Oxford online content, it may be difficult to imagine a high school student or young scholar trying to navigate these resources for the first time and suffering bewilderment when their use of the poorly-developped search tools yields 2000 hits for their supposedly "narrow" research topic.

It is also worth noting some fallacies in the statistical data cited by several commentators here. Beyond _____jn_____'s simple misinterpretation of the age statistic (if you read the caption, you would realize that column refers to readers, not contributors; it makes sense that most readers would be younger), none of the criticisms I have read so far seem to take into accound the fact that, although Wikipedia has millions of articles, many are related to popular culture - movie entries, recent hit songs, etc - and only a small percentage actually relate to scholarly topics. In this case, it's worth noting that some topics, such as algebra and medieval philosophy, may actually be somewhat accurate because there are open-source textbooks online that contributors can cite (thus good hyper-linking can lead the reader to accurate information, even if the page itself is lacking), whereas more emerging fields may be prone to more errors or lack sufficient citation.

Two reasonable criticisms seem to be the lack proper citation and the risk of burying facts under a pile of unsubstantiated articles. Nevertheless, I think part of the shortcomings in regards to the demographics of the contributors is in part generational: younger users are less intimidated by the prospect of online editing and more skillful at finding and citing online materials. Additionally, it makes sense that white, single males - the type that tend to have access to the internet and be computer savy - would be the main contributors to Wikipedia. To change that demographic, you'd have to make the entire field of computer science more appealing to minorities and women. Good luck.

The greatest risk that Wikipedia poses (again, this is outside the argument of the author), as I see it, is that free access to a "comprehensive" encyclopedia can create the illusion of a well-informed populace when users are actually reading articles with errors or major gaps in their "comprehensive" coverage of a topic. As a French and Spanish speaker who regularly compares articles from these three Wikipedia sites, I can certainly say this is the case with any topic that goes outside the scope of American history and politics. Nevertheless, most major news sources are just as guilty of misinforming the public, and it seems that the only way to resolve this is to take on the personal responsibility of keeping yourself informed. Scholars can't regulate the lives those irresponsible "young people" who choose not to, as much as these scholars may want to. Certainly, improving the conduits through which most people recieve their information wouldn't hurt.

23. __jn__ - January 14, 2011 at 10:36 pm

@djpresidente, let's look at that caption related to the age of readers and contributors in this graphic:


What it says is:

"Data for age category also includes respondents who were not contributors but who did read Wikipedia. Average age for contributors is 26.8 (vs. 25.3 for readers). "Regular" contributors include authors, editors and administrators."

So the average age for contributors is 26.8, vs. 25.3 for readers. I'd submit that this is not a large difference.

Please also note that this is the average age, not the median age. In other words, it is not the case that 50% of people contributing are over 26.

For anyone unfamiliar with the concept of average and median, if you have 3 contributors, aged 12, 15 and 54, their "average age" will be 27, just as it is in Wikipedia. Yet the typical or median age is 15 -- there are as many people younger than that as there are people older than that.

The median or typical age of contributors in Wikipedia is 22-23 (and they are typically male). This is not the ideal age for educators to be when it comes to creating responsible educational material on medicine, religion, or sexology, which are widely used as prime reference materials by our kids and teenagers as they sit at the computer in their rooms. (I recall that a few years ago a 12-year-old was elected to the position of "bureaucrat" in Wikipedia, which is the management level that appoints the site's administrators.)

Wikipedia's articles (not to mention their approach to illustration in the case of paraphilias and the like) frequently reflect that immaturity.

The solution clearly is more involvement from the academic community, and psychologically mature editors in general. It should be considered part of academics' civic duty to contribute to Wikipedia, especially in the humanities and social sciences, as without them, Wikipedia is as much a potential liability as it is a potential asset.

That is what I would like to see happen over the next ten years.

24. murielsr - January 15, 2011 at 08:56 am

Mercenary, workaholic, pragmatist that I am, I endorse the main views of the above article. (I will also confess here not having yet read all posted links kindly added by colleagues for our information, so apologise in advance).

I would devote a little time at the start of my teaching year to taking discipline-based good/ bad examples from wiki and teaching students about source-analysis, emphasising that wiki is the start, not the finish. You'll immediately have a learning target/ outcome for your course programmes to be submitted to heads of department.

Second (more mercenary point): why not improve your own citation ratings by adding your own articles to wiki? Part of your dissemination strategy perhaps? Providing ranting nutters do not then remove your entries, you will reap at least some benefit.

Third (work-a-holic/ exploitative point): review of discipline-specific materials is part of the scholarly endeavour, so at least a little time should be devoted to on-line sources in this day and age. Arguably part of your salary-package? Granted, much on wiki will be inaccurate at best, but wiki is here to stay, so at least some familiarity with its content and impact on the discipline/ student body is essential for didactic and other reasons.

Fourth (work-a-holic/ altruistic): I believe knowledge should be freely accessible to all and I will happily contribute to wiki, not even as a 'duty' but as a pleasure (some idiocy displayed can be very amusing). Obviously I do not like it when I am misinterpreted/ misconstrued/ lambasted, but there I just accept it as a given.

I am very curious about the next ten years as well.

25. ajithroshan - January 15, 2011 at 11:15 am

None of the commentators have addressed the main point of the article, which is that Wikipedia might be used as a launching point for more scholarly content.now am using this site www.cebookdownload.com

26. jonawbrey - January 16, 2011 at 02:11 am

Re: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:WMFstratplanSurvey1.png

I didn't click the link -- checking facts is so last millennium -- but I'm wondering if it says anything about the average number of divinity degrees held by Wikipedia "editors"? I can hardly wait for the days when we get our basic demographic data for goverment appropriations and proportionate representation by crowd-sourcing the Census -- that will be a "con"-census for sure.

27. jonawbrey - January 16, 2011 at 12:00 pm

“Casper Grathwohl is vice president and publisher of digital and reference content for Oxford University Press”

Oxford English Dictionary Online : Personal Subscription £205.00 (+VAT) per year


H-Y-P-O-C-R-I-S-Y -- and you can look it up ...

28. fred_bauder - January 19, 2011 at 09:40 am

With respect to certain comments: They are being made by people who have been banned from Wikipedia as a part of our on-going effort to improve quality. I'm embarrassed to see such dirty-laundry being aired out here, but that is what a good-washing out results in.

Wikipedia is the encyclopedia everyone can edit, really, and experienced teachers and researchers who have a committment to the development and dissemination of knowledge and are willing to engage the public are especially welcome. You can made substantial contributions and maybe have some fun too.

One warning though, cite reliable sources, and never, never say "I'm a professor; I'm the leading authority in the field; I don't have to cite sources."

29. jonawbrey - January 19, 2011 at 11:12 am

"They are being made by people who have been banned from Wikipedia as a part of our on-going effort to improve quality." [citation needed, not suitable for use in a court of law]

30. thekohser - January 19, 2011 at 11:26 am

I'm delighted that Fred Bauder admits to "good-washing" of Wikipedia. That's where you find the good stuff, block the person who added it, then wash it out of Wikipedia.

Here is an example of a Wikipedia administrator reverting the content entered by an editor that he determined to be "banned". You can see how the administrator made Wikipedia just a little bit "good-washed", by making the article read worse than it did before:


That's how Wikipedia works in practice, folks.

31. jonawbrey - January 19, 2011 at 11:40 am

One of the lessons that my teachers impressed on my mind throughout my extended career as a student was that learning static facts is never enough, and even potentially misleading, if one fails to learn the dynamics of inquiry, the means by which that knowledge is produced.

Maybe it didn't have to be, but the way it's turned out in practice, the culture of those who promote Wikipedia is antithetical to everything I learned about learning.

To make matters worse, the media commentary that makes its half-hearted attempts to evaluate Wikipedia focuses almost exclusively on the content, with no appreciation of just how badly participants in Wikipedia culture are being mis-educated about the means that real knowledge-workers use to discover and validate knowledge.

This is a critical failure for any enterprise that claims to be in the business of collecting the sum total of human knowledge.

They do not know the first thing about it.

Jon Awbrey, http://mywikibiz.com/Directory:Jon_Awbrey

32. seth_finkelstein - January 19, 2011 at 11:59 am

If people really want a critic's response to the "launching point" argument, I'll address it in specific. In my view, it's a trivial statement which means far less that it appears. And is too often used as a kind of trump card when it's nothing of the sort. That is, any half-baked collection of discussion and links on a topic can be a "launching point". A rant of complete gibberish can even be a "launching point" if it has sources. Yet people don't often often point to sites full of quack medical advice, crank legal theories, or nonsense economics, and say it's a good starting point if one doesn't rely on the scholarship of the articles themselves but looks at the original sources.

Basically, categorically, if you wouldn't say something about "A random webpage on the topic, written by anonymous author or authors, of uncertain agenda and unknown experience", then you shouldn't say it about "a Wikipedia article". Because cherry-picking to contrary, there is no assurance those two are distinct.

Wikipedia's monopolization here, where it's taking the time and effort of academics who could write high-quality articles, and throwing all that into the grinder which is Wikipedia politics and community dysfunction, strikes me as like pounding nails through bricks using your forehead and then justifying it by saying at least you got some construction done.

33. __jn__ - January 19, 2011 at 04:02 pm

Largely agree with Seth's points here. Finding sources can just as easily be done in google books, google scholar, or google news, without (potentially) being first led up the garden path by Wikipedia. A Wikipedia article may be slanted, misleading or outright wrong, and there is no guarantee that it will actually cite the most relevant sources, rather than a subsection thereof hand-picked for effect, or no sources at all.

Wikipedia itself classifies Wikipedia as an "unreliable source".

The other day I saw an interview with a student who said he used Wikipedia because "there wasn't a search engine for books". Poppycock. You can find books in google books, and are often able to read them online.

For example, here is what happens if you search for Wikipedia in google books:


Here is an example of what you can find; it's a chapter from the book "Teaching Information Literacy: 50 Standards-Based Exercises for College Students" that speaks directly to using Wikipedia as a research tool (and is not presently cited in Wikipedia's article on itself):


This has a link to the article "A Stand Against Wikipedia" by Scott Jaschik, published in Inside Higher Ed, which discusses how Wikipedia is often used inappropriately by students:


Sources in google books list their publishers, enabling an assessment of reliability. Oxford University Press will be more relevant than a self-published tome from Lulu.com (which is basically the paper equivalent of Wikipedia).

34. jonawbrey - January 19, 2011 at 10:24 pm

The long and short of it is that the longer students participate in editing Wikipedia the more bad habits they will acquire. Wikipedia Culture (WC) is radically differnt from Academic Culture (AC), and the more time developing personalities spend in WC the more their conduct will depart from the norms of scholarship and citizenship both.

35. jonawbrey - January 20, 2011 at 09:04 am

I think we all understand that there are many people of good will who edit Wikipedia. But good will is not what pervades the Wikipedia system as a whole. What pervades Wikipedia over and above everything else is a lack of desire for the truth.

36. martinptilvane - January 21, 2011 at 12:05 am

Okay, so I'm an undergraduate student. As a white male in that age bracket, I appear to be Wikipedia's target "demographic" and the subject of so much of these commenters' concern.

I hate to break it to you guys, but I know how to research. I'm not the smartest person in the world (who is?) but I'm certainly not an idiot. You all claim that my generation simply doesn't understand the nature or importance of authoritative knowledge; you assume that we take most of what we read at face value, without desiring to research further. Actually, we understand that if we're writing a paper on, say, transcendentalism, we don't simply search "Emerson," browse his Wikipedia entry, throw in a few errant statistics for good measure, and hand in our paper. We understand and value the importance--the necessity, even--of peer-reviewed, scholarly sources. (Good rule of thumb: .com websites are rarely authoritiative sources with decent academic standing, .edu and .org sites are much better places to find this kind of content.) But thanks for thinking that this has somehow escaped my generation, that we've suddenly forgotten the years' worth of lessons many of you probably taught us in the first place.

Some of you eagerly claim that we Wikipedia users, supporters, and contributors "still have 13,000+" unsourced biographies. This statement is technicall true, I suppose, but it's actually irrelevant. Most of those 13,000 Wikipedia entries will be read by approximately a dozen people this year. I don't know about you, but Absar Ahmad (a Pakistani philosopher), Jimmy Bondoc (a Filipino recording artist), and Milan Čančarević (a Serbian soccer coach) don't exactly ring a bell. The only people who would in fact care about these people on an academic or professional level would surely have access to better, more pertinent channels of knowledge and perhaps already know who these people are; in other words, they would not rely on Wikipedia for such knowledge in the first place. The three people I just mentioned would never be listed in a general knowledge (print) encyclopedia and perhaps only merit comparably brief entries in more esoteric (print) volumes.

But see, the beauty of the internet is that there's a lot of space for this kind of stuff. With all due respect to their surely noteworthy accomplishments, I will most likely never care about any of those 13,000 people in my life. This will hold true for most people my age, statistically speaking. But so what? Does someone really need to comb through these entries and confirm that Eamon Delaney was born on July 14, 1962, or that "his first novel was 'The Casting of Mr. O'Shaughnessy'"? Can I just assume this information is true? And if it's not (for some reason, maybe an anti-Delaney troop of web vandals), does it really matter? No. The world will keep spinning; I will continue to research the shit I care about--for pleasurable curiosity and for academic purposes--using authoritative, trustworthy, respected sources. I don't find this to be too difficult, and I'd like to think that many people my age feel the same way.

37. jonawbrey - January 21, 2011 at 11:36 am


Allow me to repeat something I have said a few times elsewhere:

“In its impact on the ecology of knowledge, Wikipedia amounts to a non-sustainable exploitation of cultural resources.

“Wikipedia is analogous to a multinational timber conglomerate that clear-cuts living forests to crank out its lumber and its pulp, with no understanding of the living system that it sucks on like a destructive parasite.”

Now, the thing that every generation ought to be thinking about is this: What are you going to do when those Authoritative, Respected, Trustworthy Sources (ARTS) are gone, or darn near impossible to find outside of an ARTS museum? Sure, you say, we'll just put that that whole darn ARTS museum online, but who will have the skill and who will you trust to curate it?

38. zardok - January 21, 2011 at 12:01 pm

So ... the author never thought of using a library to check facts. Apparently. Phoning a friend was thought superior, somehow. Hmm.

39. troppel - January 26, 2011 at 06:42 pm

This is a marvelous discussion. I found it by googling "scholarly articles on Wikipedia." Turns out, the comment that I find most enlightening and hopeful is by martinptilvane, the undergraduate. I wish I had a lot of students like him, but most would just as soon cut & paste from anything that looks halfway reasonable. What I like about martinptilvane's comment is that it reminds me there are SOME students like him, and there will always be more. Entrenched academics seem to live in constant fear that the devil is at the doorstep every time something new comes along. I think we humans have proven to be fairly rugged, and the general trend is to improve our knowledge and understanding of the universe over time. Most people recognize balderdash (hogwash and bilgewater as my favorite high school geometery teacher used to say), and won't be fooled by it. Poorly resourced, biased articles in Wikipedia will suffer the same fate as poor products on the store shelves. Few will buy them, and they will soon enough become irrelevant.

40. jonawbrey - January 28, 2011 at 12:20 pm

I really wish that Wikipedia would come of age, and I wish there could be a wider dialogue about what that would take.

I know from hard-knocks experience that such a dialogue is not permitted to take place on Wikim/pedia grounds themselves, and it appears that getting it started anywhere else is almost impossible with the “Braindead Megaphone” that is Wikim/pedia dominating the media the way it does. And so it goes ...

Jon Awbrey, http://wikipediareview.com/index.php?showforum=62

41. dmaas357 - February 04, 2011 at 11:19 am

I have never cited any encyclopedia, wiki or otherwise. An encyclopedia is exactly pre-research to get some ideas and first sources which then lead to more sources as one researches. Citing the encyclopedia is inappropriate because you should cite original work, not someone else's summary. That's basic.

So, WIKIPEDIA has a fascinating and dynamic place in the spectrum of human published knowledge. I really like the characterization of layers of authority in published works given to WIKIPEDIA in this article. To educators, we should recognize the true value of this resource and make it is used well.

Add Your Comment

Commenting is closed.

  • 1255 Twenty-Third St., N.W.
  • Washington, D.C. 20037
subscribe today

Get the insight you need for success in academe.