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How good is Wikipedia

  1. Sep 6, 2008 #1
    Specifically in their mathematical topics, of course. It seems awfully good to me, but I don't know enough to be a proper judge. What's the general opinion of the people here?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 6, 2008 #2

    CRGreathouse

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    It's pretty good on moderately specialized subjects. Truly technical subjects don't get much coverage -- you need research papers for that -- and broad subjects often don't have good articles. I find it an excellent resource, both as a starting point and as a reference for terms I don't know.

    A major downside is that it's not designed as an educational resource, so learning a subject from Wikipedia is less easy than from a textbook.
     
  4. Sep 11, 2008 #3
    my husband says the math topics on Wiki are hard to understand, but i think the basic questions can be answered there. the really good thing about wikipedia is the links to other pages.
     
  5. Sep 11, 2008 #4

    Defennder

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    It is an invaluable reference but not learning resource.
     
  6. Sep 11, 2008 #5

    quasar987

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    I've never seen any real mistake in the math on wiki.

    Another thing is that the wiki page often provides an informal discussion of topics that textbooks often lack but that is helpful in undersstanding a subject.

    For instance, a textbook will give the definition of a local ring, but you would have to learn a lot more to begin to understand why it's called like that. Wiki is good for telling you why such a thing is called the way it is. Putting things in context, historical or otherwise.
     
  7. Sep 17, 2008 #6
    as a 'first resource' is one of the best, complete , free, and understandable (except some articles of high math ) i hve used to learn about divergent series, topics about Number theory and so on,.. they usually put several good examples for every stuff.

    Once you have learned the basis try finding a good reference, Mathworld and Wikipedia are one of the best sites for 'pedestrian' introductions to mathematic.
     
  8. Sep 17, 2008 #7

    statdad

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    I will be the major dissenter here. I've found that, like much of Wikipedia, the 'information' on mathematics and statistics (especially the latter) found there should be viewed with suspicion.
     
  9. Sep 17, 2008 #8

    CRGreathouse

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    I can believe that, statdad. I find the pure math parts (except the basics, oddly) are quite good, but I see the statistics parts less. I know that the economics articles are pretty bad, more's the pity.
     
  10. Sep 17, 2008 #9
  11. Sep 17, 2008 #10

    stewartcs

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    Anything that doesn't go through a formal peer review or similar process should be viewed with some degree of skepticism.

    CS
     
  12. Sep 17, 2008 #11

    madmike159

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    I think its good. If a page has been written with no links I don't trust it. If I find my self questioning a page just click on the links and look at the other sites used. Sometimes when some one doesn't understand something they may not inturprate what they read properly.
     
  13. Sep 17, 2008 #12

    Redbelly98

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    Wikipedia is great for providing a basic definition or background for something you know nothing about. For example, I came across "Chebyshev's Theorem" earlier this year while reading about statistics. I had never heard of it, but thanks to Wikipedia I quickly learned what it is.
     
  14. Sep 17, 2008 #13
    Don't know much about math pages, but when it comes to physics, there are the good, the bad, and the ugly. For an example of "bad" see this one here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tired_light and especially the corresponding discussion page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Tired_light - to me this does not look like a source of information, but like a battle field. Note the "Sock Puppet" section. :frown:


    EDIT: Ooops Redbelly was a bit quicker than me and expressed it more clearly, forget this part and read his post above :smile:
    Having said this, I think wikipedia is a great ressource if you need quick information about a subject you never heard about before, and you don't care if they got some details wrong because you just need a broad overview. But if I were in doubt about something, and would be searching for a detailed and reliable answer, I would only use wikipedia with great suspicion.
     
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2008
  15. Sep 17, 2008 #14

    statdad

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    I agree with the comment about the lack of review being the major problem - that runs through almost all of W-Pedia. Most of the widely distributed stories from several years ago comparing the number of errors in W-Pedia to one of the many encyclopedias on the market focused on the numbers of errors. The actual study pointed out that when it came to the seriousness of the errors, W-Pedia's problems were worse by far than those in the classical reference.
    It may be the case that some of the introductory materials are relatively complete: my areas are non-parametric and robust regression - that work, and much of the higher statistical material, is not good (to put the best spin on it).
     
  16. Sep 17, 2008 #15

    CRGreathouse

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    I wouldn't spare peer-reviewed material from skepticism, myself.
     
  17. Sep 17, 2008 #16

    statdad

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    "I wouldn't spare peer-reviewed material from skepticism, myself."

    In mathematics and statistics peer review works fine.
    It has screwed up a slight bit in biology - witness the occasionally published, but totally worthless, crap that comes from the ID/Creationist folks.

    Many things get pushed by the anti-vaccine folks as being "peer-reviewed" and proving a link between vaccines and their favorite medical problem - for those folks, peer-review seems to mean "some people who agree with us but are scientifically illiterate did this work and it agrees with us."

    Is peer-reviewed material always perfect? No, nothing is - but done correctly it is the best mechanism for separating wheat from meaningless junk.
     
  18. Sep 17, 2008 #17
    Wikipedia is reviewed by millions of people every day. All it takes to make it a reliable source is for experts to correct errors in it.
     
  19. Sep 18, 2008 #18

    CRGreathouse

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    I don't know... I recall reading a paper in a peer-reviewed math journal that was not only wrong (in its main theorem), but obviously wrong -- I could see the mistake that invalidated the paper on my first reading, without even looking at the references (the problem was misinterpreting certain prior results).

    In the defense of peer review, a retraction was later published...
     
  20. Sep 18, 2008 #19

    stewartcs

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    Not entirely no. However, in my opinion it is definitely better than a source that can be "reviewed" by self proclaimed experts with no credentials.

    CS
     
  21. Sep 18, 2008 #20

    But the system still works. Wikipedia really took off after 2004 or 2005. From that period onward the science articles improved in quality, because from then on there were a huge number of Ph.Ds, postdocs etc. who started to contribute. They keep science articles of their interest in their watchlist and revert any changes that are not appropriate.

    The experts have organized themselves on many special wiki projects, like wikiproject physics, wiki project mathematics etc. etc. Problems are discussed there.

    Wikipedia does not have original articles that you could publish in peer reviewd journals. It is an encyclopedia about well established facts. So, one should compare the performence of wikipedia with other resources (online or books). From my own experience I can say that wikipedia outperforms any other comparable source because of the constant monitoring by experts.

    Some time ago I emailed MathWorld about an error on their page. It took them a year to respond and correct the error. Any source like MathWorld edited by a handful number of editors would face this problem. A paper source is even worse, you would have to wait for the next edition.


    B.t.w., Eric Weisstein's world of physics, which is supposed to be edited by vetted experts, simply cloned many wiki articles. In case of some thermodynamics articles, that was a fatal mistake, they cloned some erroneous versions, like e.g. this one :rofl:
     
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