Apparently Wikipedia’s still controversial


I have the above t-shirt (from BustedTees), and have worn it a few times this summer on campus.  The reaction has been pretty interesting–apparently there’s still a fairly large contingent of faculty who scorn Wikipedia *more* than comparable resources (such as Britannica or whatever), and, by contrast, there are also a fair number of students every year who seem surprised that Wikipedia oughtn’t be your most-cited resource in a thesis or in an upper-division seminar paper.

To both audiences, then, a couple of points:

  1. GearFire’s “4 ways to use Wikipedia” (via academhack) is mostly sound, although I think that “never cite it” is overblown. In a first-year paper, there might be many situations where a quick cite to Wikipedia is fine–especially if the point in question isn’t central to your argument.  (And, in general, I think good citational practice helps prevent so-called unintentional plagiarism, which, as McCain has recently shown, is a frequent problem with Wikipedia.)
  2. Relatedly: A feature many people seem not to know about–which means it’s certainly not being taught to students, is the ability to link to a stable version of a page.  That’s what makes a citation meaningful: the ability for someone to go back to the source as you used it.  (It’s on the left side of every Wikipedia page, in the Toolbox section–click on “permanent link.”)  The implementation of that feature means that there really isn’t a generally valid reason to ban Wikipedia (again, assuming other general-audience reference works are permitted).
  3. The % of people who get the t-shirt’s joke seems to be roughly 47.  A fair number have thought I was making some sort of deluded pseudo-political statement.  Many have correctly inferred that I’m just a nerd, and the t-shirt’s some nerd nonsense.  For something that’s such a big part of contemporary Google-driven discourse, folks need to pay more attention to its rhetoric.
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