LONDON — You know that annoying rule that professors give regarding research papers – the almost haughty, always-capitalized declarative in the course syllabus or research assignment that “YOU MAY IN NO CASES USE WIKIPEDIA AS A RESEARCH SOURCE”? Well – hopefully those days are coming to an end.
A group of students and professors at Imperial College London – “Wikipedians,” they call themselves – has come together in an effort to legitimize the content on Wikipedia and eventually promote it as a valid academic resource.
In April, the Wikipedians will hold an event at Imperial to improve editing and vetting Wikipedia pages. Further, the event aims to officially recognize Wikipedia’s place in student research, compare Wikipedia’s reliability with other types of reference sources, and explore ways Wikipedia can tailor its articles to the standards of the academic community.
While it’s probably impossible for a mere conference on the academic value of Wikipedia to affect immediate change, hopefully it’ll be a good start.
“Wikipedia is here to stay — it’s a question of whether we come up to speed with it or try to ignore it,” said Wikipedians president Vinesh Patel.
One of the most significant reasons academia generally prohibits students to use Wikipedia as a source is because ‘rogue editors’ can edit individual entries to contain factually inaccurate, biased, and/or unverifiable information. Another concern is the fact that Wikipedia isn’t peer reviewed by professionals in the field. Both are valid, reasonable worries concerning Wikipedia as a legitimate research source.
But now that Wikipedia has over 18 million articles and receives over 365 million visitors each month, it’s become a sort of “elephant in the room,” as Patel described it. “[I]t’s a place where you can orientate yourself when you start a topic… The quality has improved and the readability is often second to none,” Patel said.
Some academics are already on board. Most notably, former Cambridge math professor Charles Matthews has edited over 200,000 Wikipedia entries, becoming one of the most prolific editors on the website. Moreover, Wikipedia itself made efforts last year to get universities involved in editing and creating entries. The approaching conference at Imperial in April will shed more light on the issue, and hopefully – one day – you might be able to start using Wikipedia as a source for your papers.