Academia brings Wikipedia in from the cold

Paul Raven @ 22-03-2011

Better late than never – via BoingBoing, The Beeb reports that Imperial College London is finally bowing to the inevitable as it stops warning students off of using Wikipedia for research and instead sets out methods for using it properly:

“The issue of how it’s used needs to be explored, it’s the most widely-used resource among students,” says Mr Patel, a medical student at the university.

“Wikipedia is here to stay – it’s a question of whether we come up to speed with it or try to ignore it.”

Mr Patel says he wants to co-ordinate the way pages are edited by students and staff and to make the most of Wikipedia, rather than pretend it’s not there.

“Students know there is an inherent unreliablity, as it’s open edited. We’re not trying to hide that.

“But it’s a place where you can orientate yourself when you start a topic.

“The quality has improved and the readability is often second to none,” he says.

But Mr Patel says there is a real gap in knowledge about how this free resource is being used.

Rather than swapping anecdotes about the use of Wikipedia, he says his group wants to move to a more evidence-based discussion about the place of Wikipedia in universities.

Evidence-based discussion, eh? In academia? Someone fax the creationist biology departments, stat!

In the meantime, if you’re doing some research with Wikipedia as a starting point you might want to take a look at TheFullWiki, which appears to be an online service that uses Wikipedia as a baseblock for building topic trees and sourcing citations. [via Lifehacker, who are still on linkback probation until Gawker provide links that actually guarantee to take you to the article they purport to describe]

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3 Responses to “Academia brings Wikipedia in from the cold”

  1. Robert Koslover says:

    “…it’s a place where you can orientate yourself.”
    Sigh. Well, let’s apply the “Wiktionary” to that, shall we?

    See http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/orientate.
    “Etymology From orient +‎ -ate, perhaps after orientation.

    Generally considered an error in American English.

    References
    1. ^ orientate, in Common Errors in English Usage, by Paul Brians”
    Thanks to Wiki-everything, we can all be orientationismed properly.

  2. Paul Raven says:

    I think you’d have a better point if the quoted speaker wasn’t a British English speaker, Robert. Orientate is, according to my dead-tree dictionary of two decades vintage, considered proper usage in BE, despite being a back-formation from orient. Language moves with the times, so why shouldn’t a university? 🙂

  3. Wintermute says:

    Academia is really the last bastion in which you’ll find information-sterilization a norm in the majority of discussions, and the white-washed Ivory Towers are the only place where evidence-based discourse is a regulated norm. (Exception of English departments and administrative/budget agenda).

    It’s fairly standard protocol in schools now to teach Wikipedia as a locator of sources, but not as a fountain of truth springing eternal from the deific “Global Brain” or collective “crowd wisdom” or some other techvangelist nonsense. Perhaps more important than obtaining pure data/evidence in today’s world is identifying *sources*, track records, ulterior agendas, and political constellations of those sources. This is especially true in the 21st century where data can be fabricated, removed, changed, or shouted off the table or simply bought by The Money any number of ways. Not the least example of which is the ability of a third party to push a button and summon up a sock puppet army of digital homunculi arme with meaphones with which to manufacture consensus reality. And don’t fool yourself into believing that Wikipedia or similar sites can’t be bought, no matter how many natural disaster relief efforts they send procedes to or how young and hip their CEOs are or how many times they say, “Don’t be Evil!” The Money finds its uses for things, and benevolent garage-geeks and egalitarian info-libertarians cannot shield their brainchildren which become monstrous global power-titans from the not-so-good ultra-rich forever. We need not just empiricism-literate but info-politics-literate individuals. We need to see the Wizards behind the wiki pseudonym veil who are constructing the Oz of our worldviews; that is, we need real sousveillance of the hands feeding us the knowledge if we’re to see the concealed blade swinging from the other. And we’re definitely not there yet, so I’d hold off on turning in that whitepaper with Wikipedia in your bibliography for now.