Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Wikipedia Snobbery

Many of my colleagues decry the use of Wikipedia.

At least one outlaws the use of Wikipedia in their class. I recall another complaining that this was a sign of general academic degradation -- students thinking that looking something up on Wikipedia actually counted as research! It's a tertiary source! was the insistence.

Another voiced what is probably the commonest complaint about Wikipedia -- anyone can edit and there's no guarantee that the facts presented are accurate. "I've found several errors in the page about my research speciality," was approximately the way it was phrased.

As I demonstrated in my chest pounding post from yesterday, just because something's in a book doesn't mean that the author got the "facts" "right."

I noted several important details about Greta Granstedt's life that Hans Wollstein got wrong in his book. I admire Hans' work. I think I'll be able to rely on it for information about other Scandinavians in Hollywood, but if I have any doubt, I'll need to check sources and reliability. That's a standard that can be applied to anything out of the Wikipedia -- just as it ought to be applied to anything out of any encyclopedia or any text for that matter.

But if we're concerned about the reliability of the Wikipedia maybe we academics should do something about it. Beyond just decrying. We academics are good at decrying. We're the little old ladies of intellectual society, busy decrying and decrying.

We could do something more. We could edit pages in Wikipedia where we're actual experts.

I'm becoming an expert on Greta Granstedt, and I've taken up editing that page. It's not much more difficult than typing. I've got a ways to go before I get to be a power user, but even with just three days editing experience, I've managed to create links to other Wikipedia pages, to links outside the Wikipedia. I've learned how to italicize and bold face.

It's a bit more challenging than writing a blog post, but not much. And it's a whole lot more constructive than decrying!

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