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Academics & Wikipedia

I know many academics who detest Wikipedia (not all of them, of course, but a noteworthy number). And I wholeheartedly disagree.

I don't think there is a single greater tool for educating ones self on a wide variety of topics than Wikipedia. It doesn't matter what I want to know about, I can learn about it there. It's really a depth vs. breadth debate... Wikipedia can tell you a little about a lot of topics, but it fails to tell you a lot about any single topic.

To which I think there are two important considerations. First, many Wikipedia entries now feature a pretty comprehensive 'works cited' section where you can go for more in-depth look at the topic in question. Second, the peer-reviewed journal articles that academics treat as the gold-standard of research knowledge are basically useless to anyone who doesn't already have an in-depth understanding of a particular topic. Even if they do, the articles are often locked-up and isolated from the public; available only to those willing to pay or access to university library systems. If I wanted to learn something about how an internal combustion engine works, for example, I could get a pretty decent basic understanding from Wikipedia, or I could read dozens of 40-page journal articles about obscure components of such engines and not learn a single thing.

The whole situation intrigues me because, it would seem, academics should be all about the dissemination of knowledge throughout our society; and yet, because of the minuscule chance of finding factual error somewhere out there, many have become hostile to the very idea of Wikipedia.


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