Person A: "What is speleology"
Person B: "The study of caves. Here's a wikipedia link if you want to learn more."
Person C: "Wikipedia isn't a reliable source@!@!!!!"

Me: I wish people would stop mistaking "don't use this as an academic source for citations in a paper" with "this is not a reliable source for getting an overview of what something is." For non-controversial topics, Wikipedia is rarely inaccurate, and controversial topics are typically flagged.

@eleanorkonik yeah I agree, and it’s subject to ongoing review in a way that few other sources are.

@eleanorkonik The unstated assumption is that The Oxford Handbook of… is somehow accessible to everyone.

@ben_hr Lol.

For what it's worth, this was on a writing site in response to a question about a short story prompt.

So it's not like the "source" needed to be academically perfect in the first place.

I bet if Person B had cited quora or reddit Person C would have been fine with it, because none of their teachers have pushed back against those sites!


@ben_hr To say nothing of the fact that Wikipedia's sources are stated right there on the tin, which is way better than most publically-available internet resources!

@eleanorkonik @ben_hr I used to teach that to high schoolers - they would compare featured articles with ones flagged as having problems so we could discuss citing sources. It's an amazing teaching tool and a good source for background research.

@eleanorkonik TBH if more people treated Wikipedia as if it were an academic paper, that would solve a lot of problems from people who are not plagiarists.

@eleanorkonik And I think that even in academia the actual reason to not use Wikipedia as a source is that as a mutable and not-easily attributable media you can't really cite it reliably, not that the content would necessarily be unreliable...

@eleanorkonik I've caught a factual, non-controversial error before in WP, specifically a claim that Stalin was the third leader at the Casablanca conference.

WP is useful, fascinating and a wonder really. But it's hard to tell when it's wrong.

@mpjgregoire Sure, but that doesn't Wikipedia *uniquely* bad. I never claimed that Wikipedia has a 0% error rate.

The textbooks I use to teach have factual, non-controversial errors, too. So do news articles, informational websites. So do peer-reviewed journal articles. So does Encyclopedia Britannica. People on Reddit are wrong all the time.

It's hard to tell when those are wrong, too... but they don't get nearly the bad rap with students that Wikipedia does.

@eleanorkonik Absolutely true.

I wonder if anyone has researched relative error rates for WP?

@eleanorkonik in fact, Wikipedia is downright impenetrable in some subject areas because the pages are only edited by people getting advanced degrees in those subjects

@DialMforMara Haha yeah, this is the main reason I don't recommend it to my 6th graders or anything, and I certainly don't find it useful for figuring out mathematics concepts.

But for something like "hey, where does cobalt come from?" it's pretty freaking awesome!

@eleanorkonik My students always look astonished when I tell them to look at Wikipedia first for certain things (like a readable introduction to a specific econometric method).

And yet they have no problem citing textbooks or handbooks instead of underlying sources, even when I specifically tell them to only reference the sources.

@mplouffe I get so FRUSTRATED when I watch a student bold faced tell me that I shouldn't be using Wikipedia when I'm double-checking something from one of their random questions about Greece or whatever...

... but turn around and use the first result from Google no-questions-asked for a research paper without even bothering to click on the link!

That's all :(

@eleanorkonik I see students do that constantly, even at the postgrad level.

I don't know how I'd react to a student telling me what to do/not do when it comes to referencing. All I know is that it wouldn't end well for the student.

@eleanorkonik I find the mathematics articles on Wikipedia are better at explaining concepts than most textbooks or teachers


Wikipedia is one of the best places for finding actual sources on any subject

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