The use of Wikipedia in scientific work: to be or not to be

Wikipedia in scientific work

Wikipedia” can provide users of the World Wide Web with millions of articles on a wide range of topics. And it is she who takes the first line in the search engines for a variety of queries. How can one not resist the temptation and not use this most complete and accessible online encyclopedia to argue his point of view? But just as often these arguments are broken about the reinforced concrete rebuff of the opponent: “I found an authoritative source too! You would have referred to your grandmother on the bench! ”

Let’s start with the main question, why you can not completely rely on information from Wikipedia and therefore it is worth refraining from quoting it in writing scientific research journal.

6 reasons not to use “Wikipedia” as a source of quoting

1. The first and most important reason – it is written in the “Wikipedia” itself: “Wikipedia is not regarded as a reliable source”. The quality of Wikipedia articles is also different: some of them can be of very high quality, others – no more than garbage. This alone is enough to take a critical view of the information contained in them. The following five points are devoted to those who wish to get to the very essence.

2. The meaning of Wikipedia, as a “people’s encyclopedia,” is that anyone who has access to the Internet can edit it. Therefore it is very easy to fill it with unscrupulous information, false facts. Although in most cases acts of “vandalism” are suppressed and articles are brought to their proper kind, it also happens that misrepresented or misguided articles may hang for several months, misleading readers.

3. Let us turn to the question of which sources are permissible to use and quote in scientific work. To such sources traditionally carry official and scientific editions. Scientific-popular, literary and art publications can only be used as a subject of research. Teaching aids and reference books used in scientific works are not recommended. The exception is made only for the most authoritative scientific peer-reviewed publications. Everything related to reference books can be applied to Wikipedia.

4. To assess the reliability of any information, two questions should be answered: “Who wrote this?” And “Why did he write that?” We very often assess the reliability of information, relying on the authority of its author. So, we will more trust the conclusions of the known scientist than the novice in this field. As for Wikipedia, you will not find an answer to any question indicated at the beginning of this paragraph. Her article does not have an author as such: the vast majority of Wikipedia’s creators are anonymous, they hide under pseudonyms, and we can not find out who they really are, and therefore we can not assess whether they deserve trust.

5. Despite the fact that formally Wikipedia should express a neutral point of view, resource administrators often use their capabilities to contribute information to articles that confirm their own concept. Widely known at one time was the English editor of Wikipedia since 2003, William Connolly, rewriting more than 5,000 articles in accordance with the theory of global warming he supported, and banned more than 2,000 people who disagreed with his point of view.

6. You can not rely entirely on any source of knowledge, even the most authoritative. Humans tend to make mistakes. In scientific publications, however, the probability of error is minimized. When dealing with a scientific monograph from a university library or an article from an academic journal, we know that several respected scientists rated it and found it worthy of publication, editors and proofreaders worked on it. As for sites (if this, of course, is not a site of a respected scientific organization), then citing the information contained in it is not the best idea. The scientist has a duty to question and check any information, evaluate and compare any sources. And Wikipedia is no exception.

Nevertheless, Wikipedia can be an excellent tool for investigating a particular problem, if it is used correctly.

5 ways to use Wikipedia

1. “Wikipedia” can be a source of initial information about the issue under study, an introduction to the topic. This is an excellent resource for studying complex subjects, for a better understanding of the issue and its links to other, related problems. Find the information you need to find other, trustworthy sources.

2. “Wikipedia” can be used as a context dictionary. Each article in Wikipedia is thematically linked to many other articles using hyperlinks. This will allow you to find other terms and concepts related to the topic of the study, it will lead to reflection and a deeper immersion in the question under investigation.

3. “Wikipedia” is a source for searching for new sources. The information contained in the Wikipedia often contains a reference to the source of the citation, and this can be a useful and authoritative source. Use it for quoting. Just do not forget to get acquainted directly with the source of the citation and make sure that this information is really there.

4. “Wikipedia” can be used to obtain general information about a subject that you have forgotten and which need not be confirmed by references to the source. For example, you can spy on it some important dates, conditions for the emergence of physical or chemical phenomena, the names of the founders of a well-known company or the population of the country. Nevertheless, do not completely rely on this issue for “Wikipedia”, but it is better to check this data for other reference publications.

5. The peculiarity of Wikipedia is that the History tab, which has every article, contains the entire history of changes made to the article from the very first to the very last moment. And every reader has the opportunity to restore any of the text options with a single click of the mouse. Here you can find information about contentious issues on your topic.

Armed with a healthy share of skepticism, you can make “Wikipedia” the starting point of your research, but you should not consider it to be the ultimate truth and use the information obtained for citing or arguing your point of view.

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