Kairosnews has printed a policy statement—drafted by Alan Liu, a professor of English at the University of California at Santa Barbara—that tries to lay down the law on a tricky question: When is it OK for students to cite Wikipedia in their scholarly work?
Some professors might wish the Web site’s name never turned up in students’ papers, but Mr. Liu argues that Wikipedia can be a useful, if limited, source:
[A] Wikipedia citation can be an appropriate convenience when the point being supported is minor, noncontroversial, or also supported by other evidence. In addition, Wikipedia is an appropriate source for some extremely recent topics (especially in popular culture or technology) for which it provides the sole or best available synthetic, analytical, or historical discussion.
But that should be about the extent of it, Mr. Liu suggests. Wikipedia should never be used as the primary source for information on “anything that is central to an argument, complex, or controversial,” he says.
And he makes a good point about the ephemerality of the site: Since articles are continually contested and changed, citing a Wikipedia entry without noting the date on which it was viewed is “meaningless,” he argues.
We’d love to hear professors share their views on Mr. Liu’s statement—or their own policies on Wikipedia citation—with us. —Brock Read