Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Wikipedia and scholars: what do you think?

Every month, readers of the H-SCI-MED-TECH list on H-Net receive a request for assistance in improving a particular Wikipedia entry related to the history of science, science studies, or the sociology of science. Today the request mentioned the recent Chronicle of Higher Education article on the quality of Wikipedia entries. The writer says,

In the main article, a few articles are graded, and not surprisingly the humanities articles do worse than the science articles. Given the scope of potential coverage and the number of potential knowledgeable contributors, the number of humanist scholars involved in Wikipedia is far too small. With the exception of studying for orals, I can think of no more productive use for a scholar's time than improving the Wikipedia coverage of his/her area of expertise.

Aside from the (I'm hoping) flippancy of "with the exception of studying for orals," I get the feeling this writer is sincere about scholars contributing to Wikipedia.

What do you you think? Is Wikipedia editing a worthwhile use of a scholar's time?


Anonymous said...

Considering how frequently my students use Wikipedia (even having the gall to cite it in papers after I tell them not to use it) perhaps we would be doing ourselves a favor by taking a few minutes to fix up some of the weaker entries. I don't think it should be our priority, but it might be something to do occasionally. I don't know...I've never really had any interest in it, but the Chronicle does make a good point. Perhaps we can recapture Wikipedia from the undergrads and make it a useful tool for scholars!

Rhonda said...

I use Wikipedia myself to get a quick sense of topics (much in the same way I used to use other encyclopedia entries), and so I have edited entries myself, especially to add cites where they're needed.

I consider it a community service, but I wouldn't devote too much time to it.

Anonymous said...

Don't know, but I'm grateful to Wikipedia because without it I wouldn't understand half the economics terminology being used in my education and economic development class. Given the extent to which students increasingly rely on and/or trust Wikipedia, I'd guess it WOULD be of benefit to scholars--particularly to the scholars reading papers that rely on info from Wikipedia!

Jeff Mather said...

How funny, I was just thinking about this again yesterday. I read Wikipedia probably more than I should and wrote about two different experiences couple of months ago.

My thought yesterday was that Wikipedia really needs experts to edit articles as well as a way to tag pages where a domain expert has contributed. Wikipedia lets us know when to be extra suspicious of articles but doesn't tell us when they reflect true scholarship.

Queen of West Procrastination said...

Isn't there some kind of Wikipedia 2.0 coming out soon, with paid access and entries only written and edited by experts? I'm too lazy to look it up right now, but my husband's been talking about it lately.

You know, I wonder if the lack of involvement on the part of the humanities scholars has anything to do with the messed up relationship that we have with Wikipedia? (Which is far less prevalent in the sciences, especially because it's well known that the science entries have been edited by scholars.) Seriously, as a historian I find the site to be useful for myself, but when I get to grading undergrad papers, the word "Wikipedia" makes my eye twitch.

Anonymous said...

I've written "real" encyclopedia entries as a freelancer, and, I gotta say, Wikipedia's pay scale ain't really that different than the real thing. So it isn't that much more of a community service than doing the real thing, except, of course, that you can add "real" encyclopedia work to your C.V.

Anonymous said...

Uh, worth it. It's fast, it's there and it's easily accessible. Of course people, including our students, or going to turn to it! Honestly, if I see a name I don't know, I'll look it up quickly there.

Alternatively, we could be like some of the grad students in my department and sit around, noses turned up, and remark what a joke Wikipedia is and how much better it is in other languages.