Sorry for the light blogging lately. I’m furiously trying to finish up some writing projects that have been festering for a while. I’m a painfully slow writer, and there’s a limit to how many hours a day I can stand pecking away at the computer. Alas, this state of affairs is likely to continue for a while.
But, incredibly, the world has not stopped turning during my brief break. So here are a few items for your consideration.
First, have a look at this article by John Farrell, about Wikipedia:
A car that runs on water, a new form of energy derived from ‘hydrinos’, a ‘cognitive-theoretic’ model of the universe. They sound like fantastical concepts you might find in the pages of the latest Harry Potter book, or Alastair Reynolds novel.
In fact, they’re all entries in the wildly popular collaborative online encyclopaedia, Wikipedia. At first glance, the site’s main entry for ‘hydrino theory’ looks objective and reliable; but link to the entry’s discussion section – where authors and editors can debate content – and you’ll find another side to the story. The discussion reveals the colourful history and heated debate behind the entry’s evolution. So how many other Wikipedia entries are contested?
The avowedly populist online encyclopaedia, created by volunteers from across the world, is among the world’s 15 most popular web sites and has 40 million readers in the U.S. alone. And despite its collaborative nature, many academics are happy for their students to use the resource.
The article goes on to describe some of the difficulties involved in maintaining the integrity of the entries.
Academics are currently struggling with the issue of whether Wikipedia can be treated as a scholarly source:
Controversy such as this has fuelled concern over the accuracy of Wikipedia entries in general. In April 2007 the history department of Middlebury College in Vermont, USA, banned its students from referencing any material on Wikipedia. And this might only be the tip of the iceberg.
I think Middlebury made the right decision. That said, I frequently use Wikipedia myself. Their mathematical entries are pretty impressive in my experience. Of course, the things I look up tend not to be very controversial. My feeling is that Wikipedia is useful as a place to get some basic information and some useful references, but the lack of quality control makes it to unreliable to cite in a research context.
Anyway, the whole article is well worth a read. Go have a look.