Wednesday, April 04, 2007

EOS and Wikipedia

In a [relatively] recent issue of EOS (v.88, n.11, p.134-135), Mark Moldwin et al. discuss the popularity of Wikipedia as a source for undergraduate research in science classes. According to their informal survey, for most of the 300 surveyed students, Wikipedia was the first stop for them during their research process. The authors then briefly discuss the quality of information available on Wikipedia for their areas of interest, and end with a call for other specialists to do the same. I have never been a fan of internet "research", it seems to always end up with crappy papers rich with downloaded figures and light on critical thinking. But, I am also aware of the present reality, that when you start a research project outside of your area of specialization, the internet is the first place you go. Seriously, if I want to figure out who all of the people Stan Rogers sings about in "Northwest Passage" are, I am going to google it, or check out Wikipedia's page on the topic. If I want to go in depth, sure, then I head to the library and/or bookstore, but the internet, or more specifically Wikipedia, does perform an important role as a starting point. Seeing as how this is the present state of affairs, it is important that the information is at least correct. I spent some time last night looking at the wiki pages for my areas of specialty, and I must say I am unimpressed. They aren't really wrong, just incomplete, outdated, and rather uninspiring. So, I have decided that over the next few months I'll be adding to and updating the pages that I know the most about. I think this would be a worthwhile endeavor for the geoblogosphere. Many of us have written posts that deal with basic earth science concepts (see my sidebar), and between us all we could probably square away significant wiki real estate. So, take a look at a few pages and let me know what you think. This is in no way an endorsement of internet based papers. Students who turn them in should get low grades and reprimands, end of story. Peer review is too important of a concept in science to be replaced by anything, even google, and students need to know that. We should use wikipedia as a way to point people in the right direction, that's it.

Incidentally, this fits well with my current situation, I've been working on a post about K-Ar and Ar/Ar thermochronology for a while, but have yet to be happy with it. Perhaps it can serve double duty.

Disclaimer : Apparent Dip is not responsible if you have a debilitating attack of wikipeditis, the common affliction so perfectly illustrated by xkcd.


CJR said...

I've been thinking about this for a while myself - given how many students seem to favour Wikipedia over textbooks nowadays, it would be useful if that they're at least plagiarising technically accurate material...

Chuck said...

I did that once and someone changed it back.

yami said...

I keep meaning to get involved in a knock-down drag-out flame war with the person who thinks Darcy's Law should be written in terms of pressure, instead of hydraulic head, but the thought that I'm about to get into a flame war about Darcy's Law has so far been a sufficient preventive measure.

Chuck said...

Who's Darcy?
Is this some kind of Jane Austen thing?

Brian said...

Wikipedia could be a starting point...but the links to other resources are too few and not necessarily the best. I think a robust set of links that leads the student to peer-reviewed explanations would help a lot.

CJR said...

I did read something a while ago about a professor who basically gave up trying to improve things because whenever he tried to make a correction it got changed back and he got a heap of abuse in the back-channels. Some of the more committed Wikipedians take this whole 'wisdom of the commons' thing a bit too far, it seems.

We could form a posse... we do all have big hammers, after all.

Thermochronic said...

That is my biggest concern, as you and chuck have pointed out, I'll spend this time writing entries only to have them axed by some random jackass. Hmmm, wisdom of the commons, tradgedy of the commons, which will win out. Maybe a posse is what we need, hammers, laser beams, bruntons (not sure what I can do with a brunton, but it would allow me to wear a utility belt.)

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