Inside into Higher Education/Response

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A reporter from Inside Higher Education just sent us the following questions. All edits must be finsihed by 21:00 UTC. He is writing an article in response to Middlebury College's history department's new policy to not allow students to cite Wikipedia in papers, exams, etc.

Inside Higher education is based in Washington D.C. Their readership is primarily individuals in academia.(Professors, grad students, etc.) Go here for more information on the publication.

ALL EDITS NEED TO BE FINISHED BY 4:00pm EST, January 25. Please let me know who this statement should be coming from:


1. Middlebury College's history department has just adopted a new policy -- no student will be allowed to cite Wikipedia in papers, exams, etc. What do you think of departments adopting bans on citing Wikipedia?

That's a sensible policy. Wikipedia is the ideal place to start your research and get a global picture of a topic; however, it is not an authoritative source. In fact, we recommend that students check the facts they find in Wikipedia against other sources. Additionally, it is generally good research practice to cite an original source when writing a paper, or completing an exam. It's usually not advisable, particularly at the university level, to cite an encyclopedia.

However, this does not mean that Wikipedia is not a useful resource. Besides providing students with a global overview of a topic, it also provides students with links to reliable sources to further their research, such as links to scholarly journals and newspaper articles, which are listed in the citations. As a result, Wikipedia is a great place to start your research, but students should not use it as the final word on any subject matter.

There is, of course, the special situation in which a student is writing an article *about* Wikipedia. In that case, references would be necessary.


2. The reason given for the ban is that professors believe their students are getting too much misinformation on Wikipedia. Is this a fair criticism?

Wikipedia is a "wiki" – a collaborative, open-source medium. Thus, articles are never complete, and can be edited by nearly anyone with access to the web. Most articles are continually being edited and improved upon, and most contributors are real lovers of knowledge who have a real desire to improve the quality of a particular article. However, because of the nature of Wikipedia, vandalism and unintentional errors can be added to articles. The volunteer community of editors is vigilant in trying to check edits and correct errors, but at any one time, there is no guarantee an article is 100 percent correct. Since Wikipedia is a young project, most of our efforts until now have been focused on building the site. However, we are now dedicating much more energy to improving the quality of articles, and combating vandals, spammers, and marketers, who are a real threat to the integrity of our projects.

Having said that, in the fall of 2005, Nature magazine published an article that compared Wikipedia articles to Encyclopaedia Britannica articles. The comparison found that the average Wikipedia article contained four inaccuracies, while the average Britannica entry contained three. This led the magazine to claim that "the difference in accuracy was not particularly great."

Additionally, since Wikipedia is a project, made by the community for the community, individuals are encouraged to help improve Wikipedia and change any errors they see on the site. That is essentially what Wikipedia is all about – empowering every single human being with the ability to share in the sum of all knowledge.