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May 05, 2010
One of the biggest mistakes that students can make while writing an assignment or project paper is to reference an article in Wikipedia, the World's biggest FREE online encyclopedia, as a reference. As part of the academic community (while a student at the same time), I too harboured this bias and penalised any student who dared to reference Wikipedia in their assignments. However, of late I have been seriously wondering whether I have been a hypocrite.
Wikipedia is the first place I usually go to whenever I need some clarification on a concept or when looking up the background of a company, etc. I have also been an active contributor to Wikipedia, having created and actively contributing to more than 30 articles since March 2004. I wonder whether this bias was due to peer pressure.
The concept behind Wikipedia is that anyone can start, contribute or edit any article on it. This includes housewives, school kids, homeless guys who have access to the net and of course the jokers. It is actually the jokers who have done the most damage. There are always some guys who get a kick out of adding some nonsense on Wikipedia – the vandals. And this is precisely why most academics despise Wikipedia as a source of information. They question it's credibility and reliability.
However, I feel that the bias is a bit over blown. I totally support this amazing move towards democratisation of knowledge and making knowledge open source - free to anyone. Articles are being created every second and being edited as well. Vandalism is not tolerated and you can see vandalised articles restored, sometimes in just a matter of seconds. An increasing number of articles now have references listed for the information carried on them and in fact, I usually cross reference the sources many of which, are in fact academic.
Instead of looking down on Wikipedia, academics can help grow this amazing medium by contributing to articles in their areas of interest and expertise. Of course, you can't take credit and that's the amazing part - people are spending their time and energy to advance and share knowledge without any expectation of financial returns or accolade of any kind.
Help contribute to Wikipedia.