Jump to content


- - - - -

Wikipedia as a resource


  • Please log in to reply
6 replies to this topic

#1 Parody of Language

Parody of Language

    Analyst

  • Moderators
  • 2,728 posts
  • LocationOhio, USA
  • Real name:Kevin

Posted 12 April 2010 - 02:22 PM

I did a quick search on "Wikipedia" on this site, but since Wikipedia is referenced so much on this site such a search seemed not so useful.  I apologize if this topic has been hashed before, which it probably has.

But I am a little concerned about what I'm hearing, that teachers are effectively banning the use of Wikipedia as research for school essays.  Maybe this isn't as common as I perceive, but it does fit with my experience with teachers and school administration--they find it easier to just forbid anything they don't understand.

In my opinion, I don't support the citing of Wikipedia either, not just because it is a wiki that anyone an edit, but because I find it generally inappropriate to cite an encyclopedia.  I guess maybe for younger students it might be okay, but they you are really teaching them how to research, they aren't conducting research on their own.

If there is suspicion about the contents of a Wikipedia article because anyone can edit it, I would consider that a good thing; but I would be equally suspicious about any other encyclopedia because not anyone can edit it.  I think that, thanks to the internet, research has become easier, the cost (in terms of time and access, and not just financial) has decreased, and we can afford to be more suspicious.  I'm hopeful that newer generations will completely forget the mentality that still existed when I was growing up where people tended to look for proper authorities to make their claims, and this basically meant newspapers or television.  It seemed that if it was printed on paper or broadcasted on television, it was considered authoritative, and that's how soundness was calculated.

Now it is so easy to perform an internet search on something that is printed or broadcasted to look for, perhaps, other evidence for a claim or claims disputing it.  Now, anyone can print out an article, and so print has lost that claim to authority (could this explain the dwindling newspaper business? we've forgotten what newspapers represented to society before--a good thing).  Now anyone can make a video, publish it on the internet, and often the TV stations will pick it up, so broadcast has also lost some of it's authority.  The difference between generations can be seen in the way the older generations are still sure to watch the news each night, read the paper each morning, and the idea of casting these media with suspicion is just incomprehensible to them.  But for a long time, these forms of media were trusted because that's all they had.  If that's your only window into the outside world you treat it with some reverence.

So it is with irreverence when I say we should treat all media with the same suspicion as teachers now days look down on Wikipedia.  Teachers, if you want to teach your students how to really research, teach them how to use it, rather than banning it's use or discouraging it.  Teach them how to find the source of their information, and not just propagate whatever information that is found.  This is the main reason I find citing encyclopedias generally inappropriate: since the information contained in any encyclopedia is collected from other sources, it is really those other sources that should be referred to and cited.  A good Wikipedia article cites its sources at the bottom of the page, and those are the sources that should be referred to, just like any other encyclopedia.  Wikipedia is also far superior to other encyclopedias simply for it's breadth, it is much easier to perform an exhaustive search into a topic by being able to comb through related topics for information that needs to be evaluated and perhaps included.

But take nothing written there for granted and verify the information you're receiving, but this isn't any different than any other media.  The idea that we should trust those other, old authoritative sources of information was always a fallacy, but it was the best we had so we went along with it.  But now we have better.
"Equally opposed to both light and darkness, we have become more gray." --Who Are the Discontent?

#2 Hugo Holbling

Hugo Holbling

    Corruptio optimi pessima

  • Administrators
  • 3,881 posts
  • LocationUK
  • Real name:Paul

Posted 13 April 2010 - 10:38 AM

Nice post, PoL. I wrote something similar recently:

View PostHugo Holbling, on 28 September 2009 - 05:54 PM, said:

In the past I've been critical of Wikipedia, particularly of the idea that multiple authorship will somehow lead to a kind of asymptotic improvement. On reflection, now I wonder if the openness and accountability are to be preferred to the (possibly) greater accuracy of a mainstream encyclopedia; that the access all readers have to the iterations that led to the current product is more important than verisimilitude if readers are not actively involved in the generation of the information. I suppose this is to say that the knowledge ostensibly found in Wikipedia is of greater utility and importance to readers because they can interact with it rather than merely receive it.
On the face of it, the difference between Wikipedia and an authoritative reference is one of degree rather than kind. In both instances, the person pointing to an article must assume that the author presents an accurate summary of the subject matter; if anything, Wikipedia could be preferred on the grounds that we can at least check what has been excluded. This doesn’t really impact on your main point, though, which is that we should probably be more interested in how we research and come by information than the reputation of the sources. The fact that entries in Wikipedia are interlinked (although this could really apply to any reference organised online) helps to contextualise information in a way that a traditional encyclopedia allows but is – in practice – far more difficult to take advantage of.
"In everything that he'd ever thought about the world and about his life in it he'd been wrong." - Cities of the Plain

#3 Paulus

Paulus

    Nobody

  • Members
  • 574 posts

Posted 13 April 2010 - 02:34 PM

You both said very important things. I will write nothing as good, in fact, i'll just give you these links to get an idea of wikipedia's reliability:

Wikipedia survives research test

Comparison of Wikipedia and other encyclopedias

Grading Wikipedia

PoL said something that is so obvious for any person serious of learning and thought, that I find it hard to believe that so many do not know about it or preach it. Common sense is not so common.

I think wikipedia, and any other encyclopedia - or for that matter, any secondary source- should be read with much care and with a critical inward eye (mind :p). Yet, Some time ago I read this quote by Robert Anton Wilson:

"My goal is to try to get people into a state of generalized agnosticism, not agnosticism about God alone but agnosticism about everything."


I like that and I also find it distressing, because it is truth. Whatever scientists say I have to trust it and though I am pretty sure they are not going to lie or anything, here comes the annoying part, I do not know what they do, how they do it, and how sould I verify what they say. I just trust it. It is impossible to know really anything about what experts do.
I see a bunch of sources there in Brittanica and now what? What makes something realiable, why should I trust the sources? I have no way of really knowing if what they say is something true, because it is beyond me to verify it, beyond my learning. And more and more in this century, and those to come, hopefully, with all this explosion of information and the myriad of specializations that are arising from it, nobody will know anything about the others work, in depth, so we will have to just have faith so to speak.

I hope my point was made and I did not sound like a whacko. :)

I use wikipedia for getting a general idea of something (an idea or a work, etc.), if I get interested I might seek primary sources for that particular thing. For example now I am in a mystic and magic mood, so I want to read about magic and mysticism. I want to check some classics of the subjects too; for that I use wiki, for inspiring further research or just have good time, not too seriously, yet there are some very good articles there.

#4 Mathsteach2

Mathsteach2

    Castellian

  • Members
  • 219 posts
  • LocationBarbados, W.I.

Posted 13 April 2010 - 08:49 PM

Thank you to all posters in this thread, reading these posts has been very useful to me, and I still want to follow the links.

However, I am joining in quickly as it has brought to the forefront in my mind something which may only be a matter of semantics, but I am still not comfortable with it. This is with the use of the word "research" rather than just "search".

I had always understood that research was a "scholarly investigation and study aiming at adding to the sum of knowledge on some specific branch" ("Penguin English Dictionary", Garmonsway, 1965!), the specific point being that it ADDS to the sum ... , and I think the vast majority of the use of Wiki and ilk is only a search, by both school students and adults. With this in mind, teachers should have no problems with their students using Wiki, because it would be hoped that although not adding to the total sum of knowledge on a topic, it would at least be adding to the sum of knowledge obtaining to the student!

I have to acknowledge that my old and trusted dictionary does give an alternative definition of "research"; it is a "diligent and careful search"! However, for the time being, and with no disrespect intended to my fellow posters here, that I will continue to say to my students that when they are using the Internet they are searching for information, and their search should be diligent and careful, but they are not researching! I really do think we are over-working the use of this word "research", but I am ever willing to read the opinions of others!

#5 Parody of Language

Parody of Language

    Analyst

  • Moderators
  • 2,728 posts
  • LocationOhio, USA
  • Real name:Kevin

Posted 14 April 2010 - 04:26 AM

Mathsteach, no offensive taken at however you want to teach your students; and, yes, I think the issue bring up is entirely semantics.  I use the term research in want of a better term, for no other reason really.  Search is way too general, I'm looking for a term that means "inquiry into" but can be used as a verb.  Do you know of one?

Paulus, I'd like to post about skepticism someday, or at least what I think genuine skepticism is, but the gist of it is that skepticism can actually be rather difficult.  The reason primarily is that you really need reasons to doubt something, otherwise it becomes merely belief contraception.  Perhaps there is no better reason for studying logic than to develop an earnest and genuine skepticism.  For instance, if you read about a scientific study and instantly start asking yourself, "But did they try X?  Did they see what would happen if they tried Y?  And I'm not sure about the relevance of Z," that is skepticism.

But then, we're already very far away from this level of thinking when we are just talking about citing sources.  "Look, there it is, it's on paper.  Someone published it.  That's all I need, right?"  But what are we to do?
"Equally opposed to both light and darkness, we have become more gray." --Who Are the Discontent?

#6 Mathsteach2

Mathsteach2

    Castellian

  • Members
  • 219 posts
  • LocationBarbados, W.I.

Posted 16 April 2010 - 12:58 PM

The recent article here in TGL, "How to do Research" by Godot explains, in far more detail than I would be able, my understanding of this activity we call research.

I suppose my old dictionary has already provided an answer to your request, PoL, to suggest a verb. As a verb, it suggests a definition of research as "(to) search or examine with care". I have to concede that its use is, at the present time therefore, perfectly acceptable.

However, language being a dynamic entity, I am going to stick to my guns and claim it is being over-used to describe most of the activity which goes on between users and the Internet, and request of my students that they "search with care"! I certainly do not think any of them, nor me, aspire to the activity described by Godot, to which, as I have said, I fully concur.

Good as the article is, however, I think it stops short of full research, unless one is, perhaps, a professional philosopher! That is, whether we are engaged in scientific, historical, sociological, theological, educational (or any other "-icals", no more spring to my mind at the moment) research, does there then not have to be a methodology, which is then used to set up a research programme? New raw data (previously none-existent) will be obtained, which hopefully will contribute new knowledge to the topic being explored?

I only managed to achieve an MEd in my academic career, but it did introduce me to the prospect of moving into PhilEd and PhD levels, which is where research, in its fullest sense, is carried out, I think?

#7 Parody of Language

Parody of Language

    Analyst

  • Moderators
  • 2,728 posts
  • LocationOhio, USA
  • Real name:Kevin

Posted 17 April 2010 - 01:37 AM

Mathsteach, I don't think we disagree at all, really, other than that while I don't think research is a good word to use, it is much better than search.  But, let me say something else that I thought of a long while back that you might think interesting.

Somehow, I came up with a way of dividing up all works of non-fiction into three catagories: pedagogical, reference, and enriching.  Pedagogical works are works intended for people who are unfamiliar with a particular field or school of thought and the goal is to make them familiar with it.  Often, in the case of pedagogical works, since the goal is merely familiarity, details are described inaccurately or even falsely for the sake of relating the new field to what the student is already familiar with.  The goal of pedagogical works is to relate the student, from what he or she is already familiar with, into another field of familiarity.

Reference works, like encyclopedias, already presume a sense and familiarity with the field, and the details are the most important thing.  While you might call people who make use of pedagogical works students, I suppose the best term for those who make use of reference works is experts.

Enriching works, on the contrary, can perhaps best be described as pedagogy for experts.  The sense here, again, is to bring the existing experts into a new sense of familiarity with the subject matter while, at the same time, reorienting all the details towards a new object.  This, I believe, is what you are calling research in the strong sense; and I too would be disappointed at seeing this strong sense devalued or corrupted.

But thinking of this in terms of a theory of education I think this idea of familiarity is the important concept, even if right now it feels like a metaphor.  The important thing in learning anything new isn't, as some have claimed, being able to memorize and make use of the many details, but of being able to find one's way around in a new environment.  Maybe one criticism of the existing educational approach is that it is heavy on details and on making practical use of those details, but I think that familiarity with the environment in which those details reside is perhaps an underdeveloped facility.  It is exactly that familiarity with the environment which makes creative use of those details possible.

If anyone is following these concepts of I've just rigged up in the preceding paragraphs, I think it is perhaps this which I had problems with in school.  While I did well on tests, and by some criteria knew the subject matter, I became disillusioned with my knowledge.  You feel like you have these pegs jammed into your head, but you're unable to do anything with them.  You eventually begin to doubt them because you don't know how they hold.
"Equally opposed to both light and darkness, we have become more gray." --Who Are the Discontent?




0 user(s) are reading this topic

0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users