Edit: I believe this is not a duplicate of Are there instances where citing Wikipedia is allowed?, because that question asks about citing Wikipedia for knowledge that is very basic but is nonetheless highly relevant to the core subject of the paper. My question is about citing Wikipedia for something that is, by contrast, unrelated to the core subject matter of the paper, and thus is trivial in the sense of being unimportant rather than trivial in the sense of being common or basic knowledge.

Many previous questions on this site touch on citing Wikipedia, but none of them seem to me to address this specific issue.

I am writing a statistics paper. The focus and original work of the paper is abstract and theoretical. To introduce some of those ideas, I have a silly little thought experiment involving golf, and choosing which properties one wants one's club to have.

To be clear, nothing about the paper's actual focus is relevant to golf. The golf example is just a helpful, concrete way to introduce the perspective I am taking in the paper on certain statistical techniques.

To flesh out this example, I need to be able to describe the various options one has when choosing a golf club (head material, shaft length, etc.). I have learned from Wikipedia everything I need to know about these options in order to describe my silly little thought experiment. Would it be inappropriate to cite Wikipedia in a case like this? Would reviewers/readers raise an eyebrow at my doing so? Do I really need to spend time reading primary sources on various golf head materials just to be able to include this silly thought experiment in my paper?

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    "Trivial in the sense of being unimportant" – if it's unimportant, why even cite it? Reading your question further, I'd say you don't need to cite anything related to golf – the details are unimportant to the reader, you just use a real-life example to introduce something else. In fact, imagine you could be a serious golfer, and all your knowledge was not obtained through wikipedia, but from 40 years of experience. How would you cite it then? "Me (1979-2019)"? – user68958 Oct 8 '19 at 15:33
  • Could those marking this question as duplicate please explain why they disagree with the reasoning in my edit for why it is not? It seems to me a substantial difference whether you are citing Wikipedia for a math proof in a math paper, or whether you are citing Wikipedia for golf trivia in a math paper. – Ceph Oct 9 '19 at 12:33
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    @Ceph My interpretation is that i's marked duplicate because the answer isn't affected by the 'importance" of the reference --- references are references, and in most cases it's better to trace through wikipedia to the references used to construct that article, rather than to cite wikipedia. – jakebeal Oct 13 '19 at 15:57
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    I think it's very unfortunate that your question has been closed without adressing your comment at the top. I want to apologize for the site in all form. – Thomas Oct 19 '19 at 21:15

Yes, you should look at the golf literature itself. It is relatively accessible (not like drug design). You can find good review articles on club construction and selection.

Because you are mostly looking for an example for your method (versus really analyzing the golf clubs), I think it's fine to just pick one decent golf club review article (even a popular one, or from a manufacturer) and use it, versus totally analyzing the literature. For example if one article has 6 attributes and another has 7, just use whichever you choose. Also, of course, make it clear in your own text that you are just doing an illustrative example, not writing a definitive article on club selection (e.g. a caveat that some other articles use different number of attributes).

Statisticians should have the ability and the proclivity of skimming literature from many other fields. You don't need to become an expert. But you do need to have some level of outreach. Consider if instead this was oil exploration or drug design (more momentous business decisions). Note that this habit of dipping into the literature of other fields, not only keeps you grounded on those fields but will tend to give you ideas and insights for applications of statistical methods.

If you stick with Wikipedia, you are relying on user content, that is not well archived. In addition, the cite will be distracting to your readers and reduce trust. Since it's just an illustrative example (you could pick anything), there's no big need/plus for introducing a Wikipedia citation.

If you show too much the attitude of "who care's, it's a silly example", it will distract the reader. This is not just an issue of the Wiki cite, but your general approach on the illustrative example. And no, I'm not expecting a master's thesis of research on the example problem. But still be thoughtful about the problem selected (field, clarity, references, etc.). If you are not, it will be distracting to the reader and reduce trust/interest in reading the details of your method or thinking about how it (or you) can be useful in applied settings.

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  • This is the answer that I didn't want to hear but which nonetheless rings true to me. I am not concerned about Wikipedia being poorly archived, since I really think the value of the golf story to my readers, for the purposes of my paper, will be entirely undiminished if they are unable to use my paper as a gateway to the source I used for that story. But I do suspect you are unfortunately right that the citation could distract some reader and potentially reduce trust, even if that reaction seems a bit silly to me in this case. – Ceph Oct 8 '19 at 13:44
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    I appreciate your effort to have an easily understood example to "make it real" for the reader versus just the abstract math gobbledygook. But it's actually an important thing in terms of the reader experience of your article. Take even a little more effort to make this example a great "hook". It will be worth it. – guest Oct 8 '19 at 13:48

The real question is whether you should cite anything at all. You're not writing an article on golf clubs. You're writing an article on statistics.

Is your example so complex that you need explanations upon explanations about why you're choosing this parameter, and that, etc, and if a reader doesn't know all this then the example is not understandable? It it really that important? Then you're wasting your reader's time with a digression that's largely irrelevant to your scientific work.

Is the example sufficiently simple that to understand it, very vaguely knowing how golf works is sufficient? Then why would you want to cite anything? I don't need a scholarly article to explain that if I were to choose a golf club, I need to consider its length, its weight and so on. It's pretty much common sense. Do I know more than that? No. Do I care? No. Is a statistics article the place to learn about such things? No.

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  • Possibly I could reduce the example to the point where no citation would be needed. I was thinking, though, to include a list of various head materials that are used for golf clubs -- Persimmon wood, Maple wood, steel, aluminum, titanium, scandium. For such a list I would want a citation, even if only to Wikipedia. – Ceph Oct 8 '19 at 14:50
  • I would cite a source precisely because the details are not relevant to the article. It directs people to look elsewhere if they care to know more. I would never use wikipedia for that source of course. – A Simple Algorithm Oct 11 '19 at 1:05

No, its not inappropriate, but is a bit dangerous since wikipedia is a moving target. Things there change, though for your example, probably not enough to be a large concern. But you should, at least, give the date of access as well as the link to the article (or the paragraph within the article).

Note also that over time, things can change a lot. Articles printed on paper in journals distributed via sneaker-net have a long lifetime. Centuries, perhaps. Will wikipedia still exist when you are ready to retire in 30 years (say)? Perhaps it will. But a lot of online social media sites have simply disappeared in the past 10 or so years.

That isn't necessarily a reason not to use such resources, but you should be aware that the world as it looks today will change a lot over your professional lifetime, so be prepared to speak to future readers, not just the current ones. Make it universal and eternal if you can manage it. Exceptions, of course, if you are explicitly discussing current forms of media.

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There is a paradox and an important issue to tackle here.

very basic but is nonetheless highly relevant to the core subject of the paper

If you cite Wikipedia, make sure you cite it verbatim as Wikipedia is a moving feast as Buffy mentioned. However, if it is so relevant, why is it so difficult find a more reputable source to cite it? Sometimes it is a practical knowledge and sometimes it is "professional knowledge" that needs to addressed in your citation and discussed. To claim the citation as self-evident because it is from wiki is problematic though. Wikipedia is not an authoritative source. Maybe contrast wiki with another sources as to why this highly relevant but yet trivial point is not easily accessible in the literature?

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  • The question is about Wikipedia, but your answer refers to "Wiki". Can you clarify whether you mean wiki-based sites in general? – Pete Forsyth Oct 9 '19 at 12:20
  • I think you misunderstood. The quotation you present from my post is me describing a different question, with which I am contrasting my own question. – Ceph Oct 9 '19 at 12:28

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