Many of the professors and lecturers I come across are very critical of Wikipedia, but they never give proper support for their claims of "Wikipedia is bullshit!". And they threaten "Do not use Wikipedia if you want to pass!", and they mean it seriously.

It is true that "any Tom, Dick and Harry can edit it", but it is also true that Wikipedia takes a lot of effort to add in citations.

I do understand why we should not cite Wikipedia directly, instead go for the primary sources, but many do not even allow Wikipedia as a introduction to a subject matter. If I tell them "I read from Wikipedia that..." I get dismissed immediately, yet in online forums we use it like a Bible.

What is the real reason Wikipedia is perceived negatively among many professors, even for informal use (e.g. as an introduction to a subject)?

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    One possible reason is that Wikipedia is not peer-reviewed. That is to say, the contents of the articles are not systematically reviewed, critiqued, and approved by any experts on the subject matter. This is the exact opposite of how scientists get their results published and how scientific knowledge is accumulated. – Drecate Dec 4 '14 at 6:27
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    @Drecate This is the exact opposite of how scientists get their results published and how scientific knowledge is accumulated. That's not strictly relevant, because Wikipedia is not meant to serve the same purpose as the scientific literature - Wikipedia is not for original research. Original research obviously needs peer review in a way that a compilation of existing sources does not. – ff524 Dec 4 '14 at 6:33
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    @ff524 I guess you have a point. Wikipedia is not for original research. However, things like review articles and meta-analysis are also peer-reviewed, even though they are not technically original research. That is to say, you can argue that there are more rigorous ways to compile existing sources than that adopted by Wikipedia, and some may prefer one standard over the other. – Drecate Dec 4 '14 at 6:38
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    @Drecate I disagree with your "peer review" explanation. Most textbooks are not peer reviewed. But, professors (almost all) allow you to reference them. – scaaahu Dec 4 '14 at 7:28
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    "we use it like a Bible" - I think that quote sums up very well why students are warned off using it. – Vince O'Sullivan Dec 4 '14 at 8:48

15 Answers 15

up vote 87 down vote accepted

A small sidenote to start things off:

If I tell them "I read from Wikipedia that..." I get dismissed immediately, yet in online forums we use it like a Bible.

Well, one of the reasons for that is that "I read in Wikipedia" is almost synonymous with "I have exactly 5 minutes worth of knowledge on the topic". The problem here really isn't the fact that you read Wikipedia, but that citing from it implies that you have read nothing else on the topic. If I am an expert in whatever field, I would probably not take a concern from somebody who implies that all his knowledge comes from a few-minute Internet recherché very seriously, either (no matter what source (s)he actually found). Also, which online forums "use it like a Bible"? Most that I hang around at are very critical of Wikipedia quotes, mostly for the reason I stated above - arguing based on a Wikipedia entry does not exactly establish creds as a person knowledgeable about the subject.

Now, let's discuss the real question here:

What is the real reason Wikipedia is perceived negatively among many professors, even for informal use (e.g. as an introduction to a subject)?

(note that the question is specifically about using Wikipedia as an introduction to a subject, not as a primary, citable source)

Honestly? It is probably a combination of feeling threatened, reluctance to embrace change, and lack of knowledge how Wikipedia articles actually evolve over time.

"Feeling threatened" in the sense that Wikipedia is kind of decentralising knowledge compilation, which is of course not necessarily something that makes academics (the people that used to be more or less the definition of "compiled knowledge" in pre-internet times) very comfortable.

"Reluctance to embrace change" in the sense that Wikipedia is (in comparison to text books or lectures) a very new (and radically different) way to get an introduction to a topic, and most humans tend to be sceptical of this kind of disruptive technology.

"Lack of knowledge" in the sense that many critical academics simply have not taken the time to study how (especially popular) Wikipedia articles actually evolve over time. I am convinced many would be positively surprised if they knew how well quality control in Wikipedia actually works in practice. I remember that in 2004, c't (a well-known German magazine widely read by IT professionals) ran an experiment where they took random articles out of various encyclopaedias, anonymised them so that one could not tell the source anymore, and had domain experts compare them to anonymised Wikipedia articles for quality and technical errors. Wikipedia was consistently rated higher-quality than even well-respected standard encyclopaedias. That being said, I assume that the average quality of Wikipedia articles degrades a lot for entries on more esoteric topics, so I actually agree that for deeply scientific topics, one should be somewhat skeptical of Wikipedia, just as one would be about any other single source.

Finally, I have to say that I know many professors that don't have a problem with using Wikipedia as a starting point for your review of a subject. However, if you write, for instance, an seminar paper, you are expected to read the primary sources (and I fully agree with this).

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    I don't know if this is the same study you're referring to, but it's the same idea: upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/29/… – ff524 Dec 4 '14 at 8:06
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    It's precisely because I've watched how "quality control" in wikipedia actually "works" that I'm emphatic in steering students away from anything other than the references section of any wikipedia page. – EnergyNumbers Dec 4 '14 at 11:20
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    @EnergyNumbers: that seems a little like saying “I didn’t like what I saw of Jane’s sausage factory, so I steer people away from Jane’s sausages.” If the alternatives they turn to are good-quality steaks (primary sources), that’s great. But if they’re going to eat sausages anyway, from some other company that doesn’t let the public see their factory, then it’s likely to be worse, not better. Warning them away from encyclopedias and other broad-coverage references in general — that makes sense. But from Wikipedia specifically? – PLL Dec 4 '14 at 20:32
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    Unfortunately I can't find the article online - if somebody has a link, I would appreciate an edit!) Did you mean: [citation needed] ^^ – 0112 Dec 4 '14 at 21:50
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    There was a famous Nature article comparing Wikipedia (very favorably) to Encyclopedia Britannica: nature.com/nature/journal/v438/n7070/full/438900a.html several years prior to the Oxford one. – KutuluMike Dec 4 '14 at 22:28

I think the primary reason professors don't want students to use Wikipedia is because a lot of students only quote Wikipedia instead of actually researching a topic.

The great thing about Wikipedia is it can give you a general idea about a topic and offer a starting point to dig in deeper. However, students can be lazy and instead of digging in themselves, they take the easy route and just reference Wikipedia. This is obviously not the point of Wikipedia and research, and I can understand the need to announce on day one to not reference Wikipedia.

However, the reference and bibliography sections of Wikipedia is the real gold mine and could be a great starting point for any research topic. This is what I see as a pure advantage of Wikipedia and what professors should also say on day one.

For example, suppose I'm interested in Financial Economies, so I do a quick google search. First hit : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Financial_economics

Great discussion of the discipline, vague descriptions of risk, graphs, and financial pricing theory. But the real gold mine is in the reference and bibliographic section. There are references for financial economics, asset pricing, and corporate finance, which a great starting point for looking further into topics. The links point me further into a direction I'm interested in from very famous authors.

I can understand the question as a student and I think it's the professors responsibility to explain how not to use Wikipedia and how to use Wikipedia.

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    I usually find the references sections of Wikipedia to be a crapshoot. – Kimball Dec 4 '14 at 9:22
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    @Kimball Not entirely sure I agree with you without a stated example. I feel like searching through a university search engine is more of a crap shoot than Wikipedia. At least you get a direction with Wikipedia; whereas, library search engines give you a variant search. I'm not stating Wikipedia is the be all end all for initial research topics, but it's a great starting point. – Amstell Dec 4 '14 at 9:24
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    alot of students – TRiG Dec 4 '14 at 10:39
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    Wasted alot of time on your link ... – BlueTrin Dec 4 '14 at 13:03
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    OP is already aware of everything you stated. You just repeated the question. Flagged as "not an answer". – 200_success Dec 6 '14 at 4:03

Being a Wikipedia contributor myself I would not like to see my students cite wikipedia, though I would not say that such citations should be forbidden. Here are a few reasons for this:

  • Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, it does not contain original research and topics are not covered with great depth (for example in Wikipedia proofs for mathematical statements are not relevant in most cases). I would find it equally bizarre if students would cite the Encyclopedia Britannica.
  • Wikipedia article contain more errors than an average textbook. Especially articles of not so popular topics contain wrong statements. I discover this often (more on the German Wikipedia than on the English). Of course you might say that this is just my personal impression, but I would guess that the professors you mention had similar experiences.
  • At the university you should learn how to write about academic research. Honestly, I haven't seen a single scientific paper citing Wikipedia as a source.
  • Although everything that is written on Wikipedia should have a source - let's face it - many statements are just claims without a citation.

  • Wikipedia is dynamic - even more than other online sources. Pages can change dramatically over time, so if you cite you better add the access time.

Let me add that I think that Wikipedia is a great source of information for scientists. I just don't think it's the best source for citations.

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    This question isn't about citing Wikipedia. (We already have a question on citing Wikipedia here) – ff524 Dec 4 '14 at 15:56
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    Wikipedia article contain more errors than an average textbook. - is there a research that can back up this claim? Because from personal experience, this is opposite of reality. – Davor Dec 5 '14 at 10:08
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    "Although everything that is written on Wikipedia should have a source - let's face it - many statements are just claims without a citation." [citation needed] – potentially dense Dec 5 '14 at 15:17
  • @ArtiePrendergast-Smith, But they are amazingly easy to spot since there would be either a [citation needed] at the end of it, or there would be clearly no citations. You could just filter out the paragraphs without citation or assign less "authority" and more "doubt" to it. – Pacerier Dec 8 '14 at 13:18
  • "I haven't seen a single scientific paper citing Wikipedia as a source." If even less academically accepted Wiki's also count: sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1473309907702128 – Fomite Jan 11 '17 at 18:47

The very fact that you need to ask this question, in a way, provides its own answer.

One of the primary functions of academia is to teach the skills of research. There are two aspects to this, both critical; first, being able to find what work has been done by others and, second, to do new work yourself. Without the ability to effectively do the former you risk wasting time repeating pre-existing work when it comes to the latter.

Now, for non-academics, Wikipedia has rapidly become a catch-all, sole source, and generally fantastic one-stop shop for information. While this is well and good for casual use, it nevertheless provides an enormous disincentive to acquiring and practicing those critical skills of research that you will need if you intend to continue to pursue a career in academia.

My feeling is that most professors are, even if subconsciously, objecting to Wikipedia for this reason above all others. It feels wrong to them because it is a shortcut -- a cheat that puts a stop to a student's research effort before it even begins. In their own careers they have a deep appreciation for the need of strong research skills and, likewise, an appreciation for the need to teach those skills to students.

If Wikipedia ceased to exist at this very moment, ask yourself the question - "Where would I find information, and how would I go about doing it?"

In the world of academic research, this is the situation you find yourself in - beyond a certain level, Wikipedia will not have the answers you are looking for and you will need to have developed more advanced research skills to find them.

By artificially outlawing Wikipedia, professors are attempting to simulate what the real academic world is like - one where the answers are not already known and easily accessed; one where you, the researcher, are tasked with needing to know how to effectively dig deeper to answer questions for yourself.

The critical thing to realize is that higher education is not like primary school anymore. The error you are making is in thinking that an assignment about topic-X is chiefly intended to populate your brain with information about topic-X and that the most effective means of getting information about topic-X into your brain is the best solution to the problem.

This is wrong.

Topic-X is largely irrelevant. The real task is to teach you the skills you require to find information about any topic. Topic-X is simply a convenient and concrete sample of a topic on which to learn and practice those skills. That the information on Topic-X is readily available on Wikipedia is merely a reflection of the fact that, as a junior academic and undergrad, you simply (at the moment) lack the technical education necessary to be given a more advanced "practice" topic to research - one that would not be so readily found on Wikipedia.

Nevertheless, the professor's objection to Wikipedia is for a very clear reason - it is entirely counterproductive to their primary (and probably unstated) objective of getting you to exercise and develop real research skills.

Consider the broader context.

From a slightly different perspective, in a lot of ways Wikipedia has really raised the bar. If you are a university student and you are working towards a degree in a subject then it bears considering what that means. If any joe public can look something up on Wikipedia with the most minimal amount of effort then what does that mean for you?

Surely an academic degree needs to be something much more than a certificate proving that you know how to type "X" into a wikipedia search box. A child of 6 can do that these days - if you're looking to gain a serious academic qualification then you really need to be going above and beyond what has become this most basic level of ability to research information.

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    Then maybe the professors should design tasks that actually requires "real" research in the first place. – Alex Dec 4 '14 at 14:09
  • @Alex can you clarify what you mean by "real"? Perhaps give an example? I don't necessarily disagree but I'm unsure what you're saying specifically – Aussie Cryptocurrency Dec 5 '14 at 3:43
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    @WizardOfOzzie Well, I perceived the main thesis of this answer to be that the usage of wikipedia can be considered a "cheat" and that the students don't get to practice the skill of research in situations where the information is not as easily accessible as on wikipedia. Thus my suggestion was that if this really is a problem, then one way to mitigate it would be to give students research tasks where they actually have no choice but to exercise more "advanced" research techniques. – Alex Dec 5 '14 at 4:53
  • @Alex I see. Yes, it's certainly the way to go in an ideal world. My time in pharmacological research (Honors degree) really was a big difference when compared to coursework assigned for undergraduate assignments. I couldn't have used Wikipedia if I wanted given to (the drugs used didn't even have stubs in Wikipedia). There's a huge gulf between post-grad and undergraduate work/assignments IME – Aussie Cryptocurrency Dec 5 '14 at 6:12
  • @WizardOfOzzie, So where did you end up going to find sources? Google? – Pacerier Dec 8 '14 at 13:32

A little googling turns up this list of reasons. I think you don’t need to agree with the author’s obvious agenda to take it seriously. A selective citation of a couple of points I personally think are most valid:

  1. You especially can’t rely on something when you don’t even know who wrote it.

 

  1. The contributor with an agenda often prevails.

...

In March 2009, Irish student Shane Fitzgerald, who was conducting research on the Internet and globalization of information, posted a fake quotation on the Wikipedia article about recently deceased French composer Maurice Jarre. Due to the fact that the quote was not attributed to a reliable source, it was removed several times by editors, but Fitzgerald continued re-posting it until it was allowed to remain.

Fitzgerald was startled to learn that several major newspapers picked up the quote and published it in obituaries...

  1. Sometimes “vandals” create malicious entries that go uncorrected for months.

...

For example, John Seigenthaler, a former assistant to Robert Kennedy, was falsely implicated in the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers on his Wikipedia biography for a period of more than 100 days without his knowledge.

And finally, the number one reason you can't cite or rely on Wikipedia:

  1. It says so on Wikipedia.

Wikipedia says, “We do not expect you to trust us.”

Given the composition of academe, I wouldn’t say their point 5 (“There is little diversity among editors”) really is an argument against Wikipedia in a contest with “standard” academia.

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    While this may generally apply to citing or relying heavily on Wikipedia, it doesn't apply as well to the scenario the OP describes where Wikipedia is used as an introduction to a subject (which, let's be honest, serious academics do all the time) or to raise a point of interest. – ff524 Dec 4 '14 at 7:59
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    The fake quotation is interesting. But as with all other articles, even published and peered reviewed ones, it is up to the reader to make an informed decision as to the validity and soundness of it all. I feel everything could just be an opinion, just some are backed by more people than others. – Jake Dec 4 '14 at 8:36
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    It's also very interesting that you consider "contributor[s] with an agenda" a major flaw in Wikipedia, and your source for this idea is an author with an "obvious agenda" :) – ff524 Dec 4 '14 at 8:37
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    Only the first number in a numbered list counts. Subsequent numbers follow from that, no matter what number you give it. This is for ease of editing (i.e., if you add a new list item, you don't need to renumber the rest of the list). – TRiG Dec 4 '14 at 10:03
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    1. "All Cretans are liars"? ;-) Maybe they do expect me to trust them! – Steve Jessop Dec 4 '14 at 15:05

To be frank, I think that people who take that sort of hard-line stance against ever learning anything from Wikipedia have simply lost their heads. I don't mean that they are crazy, just that they are making an irrational decision (although there may be understandable reasons why they make it).

In some cases it is a desperate, overcompensating attempt to get people to not use only Wikipedia (which, as you acknowledge, is a problematic practice). Like a jilted lover who, to protect his fragile heart, vows never to date another artist no matter what, a weary professor may adopt a blanket anti-Wikipedia stance simply due to having their heart broken too many times by papers that are based solely on Wikipedia.

In some cases it stems from an ivory-tower mentality that rejects anything that is not a product of the academic in-crowd. In some cases this is augmented by a generalized fear that things like Wikipedia will make original research (or perhaps highly paid tenure-track jobs) obsolete. In some cases, perhaps related, it stems from an out-of-touch ignorance of what is actually available on Wikipedia; some people may have heard that Wikipedia has issues, and not want to put in the effort to actually check how accurate its information is in their field, so they just proscribe it altogether.

Whatever the reason, though, the solution is the same: keep reading Wikipedia, and learning what you can, and remaining alert enough to not accept it as gospel, because nothing is. If your professor doesn't like it, just don't tell him you read it on Wikipedia. (You can follow up on the sources in a Wikipedia article and then mention those instead.) Academic journal articles are not unsullied by speculations, skewed viewpoints, and logical gaps. Getting information anywhere is fine as long as you know the limitations of the source. You can begin to learn great things from the back of a cereal box, if it happens to clue you into something you had no previous knowledge of.

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    +1 for defending the (proper use of) Wikipedia. Numerous times, we went through Wikipedia and other "unreliable" online sources with my colleagues (most of them full researchers, not stupid unexperienced PhD students like me), trying to figure out what the heck the authors of aricle [ABC123] had in mind when they wrote this or that. It's not about using Wikipedia is a reliable source of information, but using it to get the idea of what's going on without having to read hundreds of pages of (often unavailable) textbooks. – yo' Dec 4 '14 at 22:28

The question notes the difference between on-line use of Wikipedia and academic use. I think the two situations can be very different.

I do use Wikipedia links in answering questions on StackOverflow, but would not use it as a reference in an academic paper, even a coursework paper. I see two major differences:

When writing an academic paper I can assume my readers have just as good library access as I have, and have at least as good paper-reading skills. If I can access and understand a paper, they can also access and understand it. I don't make that assumption for people asking e.g. basic algorithm questions on SO.

A Wikipedia link in an SO answer is just background information that I could write out in the answer at the cost of making it too long. A reference in an academic paper may be general background, but is often intended to demonstrate peer-reviewed support for some statement.

Wikipedia is really crowd sourced knowledge. I learned much from looking things up on Wikipedia but it would be imprudent to rely on Wikipedia as THE sole source of knowledge, just as in centuries past, it was imprudent to rely on the Bible as THE source of knowledge - You just don't want to depend upon a single source of information.

Professors may love references but these references may be biased themselves. I wouldn't be surprised that some of the emperors who have been recorded as evil may actually have been good people, and vice versa.

The blunt fact is that every source of information has its limitations and using it comes with its own liabilities.

Encyclopedia of any kind is not an appropriate learning material for a student as it is way too shallow.

Specialized literature (textbooks, review articles) usually contains much more information that may not be essential for minimal understanding but is supposed to be known by professionals.

This is not a criticism of Wikipedia. Wikipedia is actually very good. Good as it is, it is not sufficient to get a professional knowledge. There is probably no obvious harm from reading it, just not enough.

There is a certain type of the scientific literature - "scientific popular", educational material published in popular non-scientific journals, etc, to read by wide range of people, for entertainment. While such texts are generally correct (also professors frequently write them), they are not used in student education and also never cited in any serious scientific work. Too shallow.

  • The same can be said of many introductory texts in an advanced course. There are perfectly legitimate use cases, like a general overview of a topic you don't need to be an expert of. – Davidmh Dec 15 '14 at 7:59
  • Yes. It may be a very well written introduction, student still must read the rest of the book. – h22 Dec 15 '14 at 8:06
  • I think this answer expresses a valid point, but the first sentence is probably too harsh. Encyclopedias are fine as a jumping off point, a place to find a few relevant references, and a quick summary of a topic that should be vetted with further research. The trouble is students starting and ending with material from a single source with dubious reliability. – dionys Dec 15 '14 at 9:43
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    I'm shocked that this answer is so far down here. This is the answer -- the problem is not with Wikipedia in particular, but with the sheer fact that you are looking in a resource that is too broad and shallow for academic study. Certainly some well-made encyclopedias will have good citations that you can follow and profit from; Wikipedia may fall into that category (sometimes). But you won't be taken any more seriously if you say in class "I read in Encyclopedia Britannica that..." – senderle Feb 12 '15 at 13:26

Good professors just don't want you to be lazy. They'd like to see you push your 'research muscles' beyond the first google result.

Pre-wikipedia this was true as well. Rarely could you get away with citing Encyclopedia Britannica as your primary source--or citing Cliff's Notes in your english paper.

These days, if you treat wikipedia as your 'card catalog' you'll be better off. Use it as a jumping off point for your research.

As an adjunct professor teaching a classroom-based introductory statistics course, I'm not critical of wikipedia at all. You have to be careful, of course, and check the information on wikipedia against information in the textbook or other reliable sources. But having said that, wikipedia can be very useful to clarify something that may be causing confusion, or provide a slightly different perspective that might help to increase understanding. I'm in favor of anything that helps students learn the subject, and wikipedia can definitely be useful in that respect.

It would be different if I were teaching a graduate-level course that requires research and access to original work. But for an introductory course, there's nothing wrong with wikipedia.

  • The question is "Why are some professors critical of Wikipedia?" not "Are you, as a professor, critical of Wikipedia?" It's not clear how this answers the question. – ff524 Dec 4 '14 at 19:21
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    Okay, granted. But it does give a data point. If you consider this data point to be invalid, then the only acceptable way to answer the question is to identify exactly who are these professors that are critical of Wikipedia, and ask them. Otherwise it's just speculation. Interesting speculation, perhaps, but not necessarily well-informed. My main point was that professors who teach introductory-level courses may not, in general, be that critical of wikipedia. That leaves those who are teaching more advanced courses, who may have more legitimate reasons for disliking use of wikipedia. – Don Dec 4 '14 at 21:59

I, as a lecturer, use Wikipedia often when I need a quick introduction to a certain topic. Mostly when I decide on which texts my students shall read for a seminar, I start on Wikipedia. There you have great summaries of many important works. A wiki research can, of course, also turn out to be completely useless - but in most cases I still saved time: Reading through hundreds of books and magazines again to find out that a certain text doesn't fit my needs, costs me much more time.

Anyway, I never would cite from there and neither would I let cite my students from there. But that also has to do with me generally being against online-citation. It's simply not reliable. Websites can disappear or be changed at any time without leaving a trace of the old state. Not so books and magazines: Older editions are still available when newer ones are printed, so you can always go back and, if the information was wrong, figure out how the mistake could have happened.

"Casual use" of Wikipedia can mean any number of different things, for instance:

  • Scaffolding your understanding of a topic, while forming an idea of what authoritative sources to seek out
  • Correcting a typo
  • Creating & submitting a graphic to augment an article, as practice in creating graphics for academic texts
  • Seeking to remind oneself about a concept one already knows but has forgotten
  • etc. etc. Some of those might be illegitimate (just as some uses of citations in highly respected peer reviewed journals can be illegitimate), but some are perfectly reasonable, and well-vetted in the academic world.

To be blunt, any professor who decries any casual use of Wikipedia is telling you more about their own biases, than they are telling you about Wikipedia.

  • Here's an example of somebody who simply "hates" Wikipedia, based on a single incident: [Why I hate Wikipedia] (montgomeryadvertiser.com/story/opinion/columnists/2017/01/05/…) I think this illustrates fairly clearly how such a position is highly subjective; Wikipedia is like air or water, or if that's a stretch, like a public utility; "hating" it makes little sense to me. – Pete Forsyth Jan 11 '17 at 23:50

This kind of attitude match quite well the behaviour when a disruptive technology enters the scene and challenges old institutions: The role of the new technology is not completely clear, there is insecurity in how to handle it, it's misused and some people get defensive and aggressive while others have a more positive view, embrace the changing environment and tries to make things fit together.

It will gradually be resolved when a better understanding of the role of the new technology emerges: Exactly what its benefits and disadvantages are and how it can complement the current system.

In the case of academics and wikipedia, I place my money on a wider appreciation of the fact that there are several methods to acquire information, with their own benefits and disadvantages, and that wikipedia in reality has a high reliability for most topics on a basic level and that it's a very efficient way to traverse different subjects and to gain a good but basic birds-eye view of a subject.

And to clarify, of course wikipedia is not for original research (well, obviously except research about wikipedia itself). It's generally a good way (efficient: Time is capital) to traverse the crude domain of a subject (see the references to research about this in the other answers here), but less suitable for more in-depth research. Right tool for the right job.

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    Or maybe Wikipedia just isn't very good. – JeffE Dec 4 '14 at 14:44
  • @JeffE Define "good". – Alex Dec 4 '14 at 14:59
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    Thorough, accurate, unbiased, concise, consistent, aimed at the correct audience — take your pick. – JeffE Dec 4 '14 at 17:01
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    @JeffE That's a list of nice general qualities, but in assessing the "goodness" of something we need to take into account what we want to achieve. And since I already argued that there is different strategies for the parsing of information, each with their own benefits and disadvantages, I expected you to explain how the features of wikipedia is totally incompatible (...even for informal use (e.g. as an introduction to a subject)?...) with the academic world. That you just think it sucks fits well into my answer. – Alex Dec 4 '14 at 17:13
  • How does it fit well into your answer? I'm not the least bit confused about the role of Wikipedia's technology, nor do I suffer from any insecurity about how to handle it, nor am I being either defensive or aggressive. I wouldn't recommend using Encyclopedia Britannica either, for exactly the same reasons. – JeffE Dec 4 '14 at 17:19

On the one hand, Wikipedia is one of the greatest accomplishments of human civilization. Never before has so much knowledge been so easily accessible to so many people. It is one of the wonders of our world. On the other hand, this means that if you want to do anything yourself you need to add value beyond what's in wikipedia which everyone else has access to anyway. Wikipedia is the new bare minimum of common knowledge, and so you should assume your reader already has access to wikipedia and anything you write needs to say something that's not already available on wikipedia or else it is worthless (not because wikipedia is worthless, but because you haven't added any value beyond wikipedia so the reader might as well just read wikipedia instead).

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    How does this answer the question about the OP's professors? – ff524 Dec 5 '14 at 3:52
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    -1 for "Wikipedia is one of the greatest accomplishments of human civilization". It really isn't. – Moriarty Dec 5 '14 at 10:37
  • @Moriarty I think Wikipedia is pretty fascinating, personally. I wouldn't exactly call it "one of the greatest accomplishments of human civilization", though. Also, -1 for the fact that this does not really answer the question. – xLeitix Dec 5 '14 at 23:31

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