Why maths textbooks when you can have Wikipedia?

In summary, Wikiepdia can be a great resource for learning maths, but be careful not to rely on it completely. It can be error-prone, and lack proofs and coherent definitions. However, it can be a useful starting point for learning more complex topics.
  • #1
tgt
522
2
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I seem to be able to do all my maths homework using Wikiepdia as a resource alone. It is so good for definitions and examples.
 
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  • #2
Watch out! It is not always right.
 
  • #3
Plus Wikipedia's approach to subjects and its definitions might not be the one your prof or book uses, and can cause problems.
 
  • #4
Wikipedia is definitely not anywhere close to the amount of knowledge contained in math textbooks.
 
  • #5
There have been lots of discussions on here about learning directly from Wikipedia. Try searching the forums and reading those.
 
  • #6
tgt said:
?


I seem to be able to do all my maths homework using Wikiepdia as a resource alone. It is so good for definitions and examples.

well, yes. but you know what? The reason might be... They don't know how to use computer! True. Here in my country, there are lots of people who doesn't know how to use computers...
 
  • #7
no proofs in wikipedia
 
  • #8
wikipedia normally doesn't have much depth. you will eventually need carefully written books if you really want to understand something.
 
  • #9
It can be a good source for starting out in many mathematical fields. Things to look out for:

1. Errors. While the quality is usually pretty good, subtle errors can creep in easily. Further, blatant 'vandalism' , while usually caught quickly, is also possible.
2. Lack of coherent definitions. Each article has its own terminology, which may not match that of other pages.
3. Lack of proofs. You can learn results, but not how to derive them. Wikipedia has only a handful of proofs, less than a single textbook would have.
4. Lack of exercises. Not a problem if you're in a class and have assignments from the professor, but otherwise it's another obstacle to learning.
 
  • #10
I wouldn't use wikipedia as a textbook, but certainly use it as a ressource!

It's priceless. People talk about prof. won't like this or that, or prof. doesn't do that or this.

That's crap because I bring up stuff I find on wikipedia, and I haven't had any faults about it yet. It's a great way to explore all kinds of things you can do in mathematics without spending hours browsing textbooks and smashing your head over it.
 
  • #11
Another point that I have not seen raised is that textbooks have structure. That is to say that an expert in the field has taken the time to organize material in a way to make progress through the subject logical.

In short, I agree with JasonRox, it is an excellent reference, but not a textbook substitute.
 
  • #12
wildman said:
Watch out! It is not always right.

Neither are textbooks :wink:
 
  • #13
I most like the examples in Wikipedia. There are usually more of them then in anyone textbook. It also seems to really bring about all the background material in an area which is not significant enough for a textbook to dwell into in depth.
 
  • #14
Diffy said:
Neither are textbooks :wink:

You'd think textbooks would have a better chance of being right but with all the scrutiny on Wikipedia, it might turn out to be more correct then textbooks. Certainly typos can be spotted and correct far more quickly then textbooks.
 
  • #15
wiki is pretty good, but this is a little like asking why we prefer signed letters of recommendation to anonymous ones.

i.e. published textbooks have more checks and balances. also, top experts tend not to write for wiki, more often crackpots and self designated experts do, (like me).

i.e. YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR.more free advice available without request.

the guy who said no proofs nailed it: i.e. you can't trust ANYONE! if they give the proof you can check it yourself, if not, be wary.
 
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  • #16
i don't mind using wikipedia as a resource for learning as well, i usually just use which ever makes more sense to me on a per topic basis

however, I've found the textbook a bit better because the teacher is teaching from the textbook and it is usually more in line with the process of learning rather that just definitions and examples (ie. proofs, complex reasoning problems and real life examples)
 
  • #17
Wikipedia, are you kidding me! Use a reputable math help website.
p.s. are you passing?
 
  • #18
Textbook > Wikipedia

The textbook teaches you the subject int he context of what you will be tested on.
 
  • #19
we would sometimes fight about proofs (and not just proofs "misusing" the dirac-delta, like in Sampling theorem). there used to be a little fight about the "proof by calculus" of Euler's formula.

except for that they need to identify and respect experts in various fields (rather than equal-handedly allow some crackpot to "correct" the contribution of some expert), and lacking that, the organization is bad. but otherwise, most hard science, engineering, and math at Wikipedia is reasonably reliable.
 
  • #20
i.e. published textbooks have more checks and balances. also, top experts tend not to write for wiki, more often crackpots and self designated experts do, (like me).

So post the proofs and get rid of your other complaint. :)


I like the idea of Wikipedia. Unlike textbooks, it has an updatability factor.
 
  • #21
.:)

Oh .. hello ... btw. :)
 
  • #22
They are set out in completely different manners...even if the content on both were 100% reliable, a textbook sets out to teach a subject. Wikipedia is more of an encyclopedic resource. I would have thought this would have been obvious.
 
  • #23
At least textbooks have been reviewed by an expert in the particular. I would rather believe a textbook rather than Wikipedia.
 
  • #24
Hey tgt,

I am in full support of you.But we got to wait until all the schools improvise and bags turn
into laptops!
 
  • #25
Scholarpedia is decent. They get a peer-voted 'expert' on the subject to write the article so at the very least it lacks anonymity and contains rigor (mostly). It most certainly does not have the vast array of information that wiki has since its slow going to get articles since they are all voluntary, but I've found it to be of tremendous use.

Check for it in google.

On topic: I like wiki because it has introductory sections and hyperlinks to definitions and stuff needed to understand the material. Its certainly a lot faster than a book if you are out of your depth with a subject, I don't believe it can completely replace textbooks, only supplement their content much like any other web resource really :smile:
 
  • #26
Supplementing a textbook with Wikipedia is ok but to replace would be dangerous!
 
  • #27
Textbook > Wikipedia
True;

But, Internet > Textbook
Internet: {online lectures, open source books, wikipedia, rapidshare.de :blushing:, torrents, google}

or
google >Textbook
 
  • #28
Eidos said:
Scholarpedia is decent. They get a peer-voted 'expert' on the subject to write the article so at the very least it lacks anonymity and contains rigor (mostly). It most certainly does not have the vast array of information that wiki has since its slow going to get articles since they are all voluntary, but I've found it to be of tremendous use.

Scholarpedia looks like wikipedia but it is actually nothing like it. For those who don't know, scholarpedia is a pretty-new peer-reviewed internet encyclopedia started by Eugene Izhikevich of the neurosciences institute in San Diego. The authors of the articles are elected by the other authors and the editors. The main difference between scholarpedia articles and any other published review articles is that the review process is public. ie you can see the conversations between the reviewer and the reviewee if you click on the equivalent button to wikipedia's talk page.

Scholarpedia tends to invite the foremost experts in an area to write about that area and many of them have accepted the invitations. (Eve Marder on homeostatic plasticity, Cristof Koch on neural correlates of consciousness, Jack Cowan on the Wilson-Cowan model etc.) Though most have not yet written the articles they have agreed to write. This will get better as time goes on.

The reason most of you here haven't heard of scholarpedia is that it doesn't cover physics. So far scholarpedia has been almost exclusively in my field (theoretical neuroscience) as this is what Dr Izhikevich himself does. Recently, they've started to expand but this will be a slow process it seems. Scholarpedia is becoming a very good resource for theoretical neuroscience. It will be a long time before it becomes good in other areas.

Take a look at: http://www.scholarpedia.org/
 
  • #29
rootX said:
Textbook > Wikipedia
True;

But, Internet > Textbook
Internet: {online lectures, open source books, wikipedia, rapidshare.de :blushing:, torrents, google}

or
google >Textbook

Are you going to write a proof for that? I am joking.

Wikipedia was actually blocked from my schools internet due to its inaccuracy. Not that it keeps me out. It actually really is a great source, especially ones with loads of citations, because you can go to the citation links and use those. Great for essays, not that I do much of that in math.
 
  • #30
Wikipedia is a great resource, but is absolutely no match for a good textbook.

Unfortunately, good textbooks are rare. Most textbooks are terrible!

Wikipedia (and do not forget Wolfram Mathworld) are I think often better than the 'average' textbook, at least in math and at the high school/undergrad level.
 
  • #31
I recall that there was something of a controversy on wikipedia a while back over the appropriateness of mathematical proofs for that setting. Was anyone here involved in that? Or remember what was decided anyway?
 
  • #32
As a person doing self study, I would rather have a bad textbook than wikipedia. It is better for certain subjects than it is for others, but learning math of wikipedia alone would be nigh impossible.

The problem as I see it is this: The editors are in competition, there is constant nitpicking on posts, and finding an error in something written by others is used to elevate your own status. You would think that this is a good thing, since it gives accurate articles? Well, the problem is that you end up with math articles and definitions that are so careful and technical that they only make sense *if you already know* the subject.

Another thing is the ordering of the material. It does not exist in many cases. Say you want to learn algebra using wikipedia. First off there is elementary algebra, which contains a few examples and descriptions. The next article is Abstract Algebra. Since wikipedia is not a textbook, there is no information on the plethora of stuff you need to learn in between those two things. The information is not structured for learning a subject, it is structured for finding a single specific bit of information.

Wikipedia gives a lot of really cool history on subjects, which may not be included in textbooks. That's always fun to read. And it is a good resource for looking up definitions or formulas you might have forgotten. If you do not know what a term means, wikipedia usually does (although again, you need to be familiar with the related material for it to make sense). But wikipedia is certainly no place to go if you want to learn a field or a subject which cannot be contained in a single article.

k
 
  • #33
kenewbie's comment is a good echo of what I said in this thread before - They have completely different purposes. Why are we comparing them like this? Why have a rubber when you can have a stapler?
 
  • #34
wikipedias great to have open while you look through your textbooks. Any term you're not familiar with is accessible with the push of a button
 
  • #35
What's to prevent me from intentionally putting up subtle wrong information on wikipedia? It might not get noticed before somebody learns the incorrect thing.
 

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