Wiki-, wiki-, what?

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By Adam Zunder

Writing a term paper might be a lot easier in the near future if a group of British scholars get their way.

The so-called “Wikipedians” of Imperial College hope to turn Wikipedia into an official research tool, in acknowledgement of its enormous popularity among students.

Vinesh Patel—a medical student—founded the group, which will be hosting the “London Wikipedia Academy” in April, an event intended to improve editing on Wikipedia’s pages.

Patel wants to encourage greater collaboration between students and faculty, editing the entries on the open-content website.

Patel is critical of the perception that Wikipedia is an unreliable source that encourages academic dishonesty. He suggests that plagiarism is just as likely to occur when a student uses a peer-reviewed source.

While improving the quality of Wikipedia’s content is a laudable goal, making it academically rigorous is hardly a good idea.

Making Wikipedia an official research tool would complicate its current model—allowing anyone to create content on a topic of interest.

Peer-reviewed content within academia is trusted to a relatively small community of experts, in order to ensure that all material conforms to reasonable standards.

In order to ensure this consistency and quality on Wikipedia, a great deal of esoteric or special interest material might not be deemed credible.

Unlike a traditional print or electronic encyclopedia, Wikipedia can provide information about topical events on a daily basis.

The Wikipedian movement reveals more about how Wikipedia is being used than anything innate about its quality.

Wikipedia hardly revolutionized the process of conducting academic research—properly cited or not. “Stealing” research from other works by simply looking to the bibliography is a practice that existed long before the Internet.

It also seems unlikely that Wikipedia could become a reputable research website within the academic community, as it has no long-standing reputation to build upon.

However, Wikipedia serves an excellent function as an informal source of information. It’s a great resource to get basic facts on a topic and direct you towards more detailed sources.

It isn’t perfect, but takes great pains to address inaccuracies and mischievous changes to its content.

Anyone who takes Wikipedia’s content at face value—especially on a complicated or contentious topic—is making a serious mistake.

Using information found on Wikipedia without proper citation is a dangerous move.

Even more dangerous is treating all of its information as factual.

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