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Insights Why You Should Not Use Wikipedia As Your Primary Source - Comments

  1. Aug 12, 2014 #1
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2015
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 12, 2014 #2
    I like wikipedia. I know it's not always correct and personally I've read entire articles that are bullocks, but I still like it, because it usually gives a nice intuitive introduction to a topic that is hard to get in a proper book.
    Personally, I have made it a custom to first read the wikipedia article about a topic, be very critical about it and then get to the actual literature with a glimpse of what it's all about that I wouldn't have otherwise.

    If you find an error in wikipedia, then just correct it or at least criticize it in the discussion. Also I think you are being delusional if you think that peer-reviewed journals and academic books are error free and don't have nonsense-articles or statements. Think for yourself, you can obviously do it! No automaton can replace personal scepticism.

    It appears to me that you're having trouble grasping the entire open-source idea. Do you like arxiv?
     
  4. Aug 12, 2014 #3

    verty

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    Wikipedia follows the example of the famous French Encyclopédie of 1750-1770:

    It sounds very familiar, doesn't it? Is it a coincidence that so many advances were made only a few generations later? I mean steam power, metallurgy, etc. By ~1870, the world was essentially modern as far as scientific thinking goes. That's within one lifetime of the encyclopedia's publication.

    This may be overstated but the fact remains, many people were empowered to make better decisions and to think in a new way, thanks to the disseminated knowledge. The world in 1750 was positively primordial, I think this encyclopedia must have had a huge influence.

    So what is the philosophy of Wikipedia? I believe it is to spread knowledge and effect the future in a positive way. Does it do that, will it do that? Time will tell, but there are countries that are not all that different to the world of 1750, and it could have a similar effect today in those countries, I'm thinking of countries like Indonesia, Myanmar, etc.

    That said, ZapperZ was careful to limit his admonishing to those who would use Wikipedia as a primary source. But as a secondary source, it is surely good and definitely worth having around, I think. If editing can make it better, edit away.

    Thank you.
     
  5. Aug 12, 2014 #4
    I think wiki can be a very useful source of sources, if that makes sense.
     
  6. Aug 12, 2014 #5

    symbolipoint

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    Greg and ZapperZ,

    What you say is absolutely right. Wikipedia is not suited for deep learning of technical topics. Serious scientific expository articles are properly placed in research journals and in academic institutions, maybe sometimes as technical investigations within businesses.
     
  7. Aug 12, 2014 #6

    wukunlin

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    For unfamiliar topics, I use wiki to find the keywords and then use those keywords to find proper papers and textbooks.
     
  8. Aug 13, 2015 #7
    Important concept to understand
     
  9. Aug 13, 2015 #8
    I agree that it's imperfect, but to look up an equation, or something like that it's pretty good. The flip side is, don't take textbooks as gospel either almost all have some typos and unlike Wikipedia, it isn't constantly updated.
     
  10. Aug 13, 2015 #9

    atyy

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    Can ZapperZ give a reference as to what the "WHOLE PHILOSOPHY" of Wikipedia is that he is disagreeing with?
     
  11. Aug 13, 2015 #10
  12. Aug 13, 2015 #11
    IF "the errors in the various entries are only the SYMPTOMS of the flawed philosophy" THEN "Encyclopaedia Britannica" is also based on a "flawed philosophy" since there are as many errors there as in Wikipedia.
     
  13. Aug 13, 2015 #12

    ZapperZ

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    Er.. we're NOT talking about "typos" here. There's a difference between the two. The errors in Wikipedia, especially the one that I used as an examples, are the type of errors that AMATEURS would make, or at the very least, an error that would be made when there wasn't a very careful consideration of what is being presented. I haven't come across that same type of error in the textbooks that I had used, and I had used a lot!

    I have a higher degree of confidence in the validity of an equation coming out of a textbook than looking up on Wikipedia. Did I just say something crazy here?

    Please note that, as I stated, and has been pointed out by several members, I'm criticizing the use of Wikipedia as the PRIMARY source of information. Stay in this form for a while, and you'll find people using it as not only a primary source, but also as a learning material, as if this is a well-thought out textbook! This is what I am criticizing!

    There are several points that make up the "WHOLE PHILOSOPHY" of Wikipedia that I find to be flawed, especially when it is used as a PRIMARY SOURCE:

    1. When I wrote this several years ago, anyone and everyone could contribute to it and edit it. While this may no longer be completely true now, there is still an element where anyone can write about something, regardless of that person's credentials. The whole idea of the "cult of the amateur" scares me, where the opinion of someone is taken in with equal weight, regardless of whether that person has the knowledge or expertise to voice such an opinion. I want to know who is writing this thing that I'm trying to learn from. And yes, in that sense, I also would NOT use Encyclopedia Britannica as a source to learn something.

    2. When we have a discussion about a book that covers a particular topic, we often get a debate or discussion on whether such-and-such a book is better than the other. I've often criticize members who recommend Feynman's Lecture Series books to someone who is just starting out in physics, because pedagogically, it isn't a very good book for beginners! I can also say that I like Griffith's E&M text, while someone else will disagree with me for various reasons. Yet, textbooks on the SAME subject area covers roughly the SAME set of topics. What makes one textbook different, or better than the other? It is the way the material is presented! Textbook writers, or anyone trying to TEACH someone else about something, must not only know the material, but must also put in a lot of effort in trying to present the material in the simplest, clearest, and best method to be understood! This is what makes one textbook or one source better than the other. You just don't spew the information out like a vomit.

    This consideration is what is seriously missing in Wikipedia articles. I've lost count of how many entries that I've read which felt jumbled, disjointed, and some time even contradictory. This is especially true when more than one cooks had dipped his/her hands into the pot. It is not presented in a thoughtful, systematic manner for learn from, and again, we are talking about people who are using this as a primary source of information! They, of all people, need more than others a source that is well-organized and clear. So even if there are no errors in a particular topic, there's a lot to be desired on how that topic is presented. This lack oversight on how the quality of the presentation is something I consider to be a major flaw.

    3. The idea that one can study a subject matter using Wikipedia is scary. Knowledge isn't just a series of disjointed and disconnected pieces of information. Rather, it is a series of connected information where they are interrelated to each other. "Encyclopedia", by definition, is nothing more than a collection of information. It is fine if you simply want to look up something, but if you don't know what you are dealing with, this will be a piece of information dangling in mid air, without any anchor to anything else. This is not knowledge. It is a piece of useless and irrelevant information that you can't use, other than to impress someone at a party.

    Zz.
     
  14. Aug 13, 2015 #13

    atyy

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    Define PRIMARY SOURCE.

    And please give a reference that says the WHOLE PHILOSOPHY of Wikipedia is to be used as a PRIMARY SOURCE according to that definition.
     
  15. Aug 13, 2015 #14

    ZapperZ

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    I am not a biologist. I want to look up what a particular virus is and what it can do. I don't have other sources. I go to Wikipedia to learn about this virus. I'm using Wikipedia as a primary source.

    No, I never implied that being used as a primary source was the intention of Wikipedia. What I argued is because of the flawed philosophy of Wikipedia, it should never be used as a primary source! There's a difference!

    Are we going to go down this path of splitting hairs again that you normally go into? If it is, then I'm done!

    Zz.
     
  16. Aug 13, 2015 #15

    atyy

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    So primary source means "sole source"? Is there anything you would recommend as a PRIMARY SOURCE in this sense? Presumably it must be flawless.
     
  17. Aug 13, 2015 #16

    ZapperZ

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    Again, you are WAAAAY off in this. Where did I insist that a source must be "flawless"?

    Zz.
     
  18. Aug 13, 2015 #17

    atyy

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    Can you give an example of a primary source you recommend and explain in what way it differs from Wikipedia?
     
  19. Aug 13, 2015 #18

    ZapperZ

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    Only if you reply to my question on where I wrote that such sources must be "flawless". This has been nothing but a one-way street, you convoluting what I said and asking me to defend it.

    Zz.
     
  20. Aug 13, 2015 #19

    atyy

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    You used the errors as a symptom of the flawed "WHOLE PHILOSOPHY" of Wikipedia. So if there were no errors, there would be no symptoms and you would have no evidence.
     
  21. Aug 13, 2015 #20

    ZapperZ

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    Then you don't know how to read. Nowhere in the THREE points that I described as the flaw in the philosophy of Wikipedia involves a discussion about errors!

    There is no point in continuing this, because what I wrote is not what you understood. It is why you mangled what I wrote. So why would you bother to listen to anything that I have to say?

    Over and out!

    Zz.
     
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