Thursday, August 30, 2007

Wikipedia, Blogs and Writing

Isn't life like that? You blog about something and then suddenly you find a hundred other places where that topic was discussed. It makes me think back to when we were pregnant (well actually Brigitte was pregnant) and it seemed everywhere I looked I saw pregnant women. You see what you pay attention to.

Well the point is that after posting about Wikipedia, I suddenly discovered all kinds of blogs and articles and sites describing some of the difficulties with using this as a source of information. This article ( Wikipedia and Academia Hit News Headlines Again) has a whole list of related articles and sites about the difficulties of the Wiki phenomenon. In part the article reveals that Middlebury College history students are no longer allowed to use Wikipedia in preparing class papers. The school's history department recently adopted a policy that says it's OK to consult the popular online encyclopedia, but that it can't be cited as an authoritative source by students. The policy says, in part, "Wikipedia is not an acceptable citation, even though it may lead one to a citable source." History professor Neil Waters says Wikipedia is an ideal place to start research but an unacceptable way to end it.

However most places would allow you to cite Wikipedia and other online information sites (including blogs) but not to use them as reliable sources of information. They could be used to provide anecdotal information or examples of differing opinions on a topic but not for hard facts. That would have to be backed up with more traditional sources.

There are a number of alternative online sources of information that are more reliable and don't have the same left leaning, anti-Christian bias of Wikipedia. A couple of notable ones are Scholarpedia written by, you guessed it, scholars. Experts must be either invited or elected before they are assigned certain topics. Then there's Conservapedia, a conservative, Christian-influenced wiki encyclopedia that was created as a response to Wikipedia's alleged left-wing bias. The information found on this site is free of foul language, sexual topics and anything else deemed offensive by the site's editorial staff. There are also the paid subscription sites like Encyclopedia Britannica Online and Microsoft's Encarta. For a fuller description check out Top 7 Alternatives to Wikipedia from the Online Education Database.

This site gives information on how to cite a blog or Wiki article. The Citation Machine actually does the work for you if you plug in all the information. One of the difficulties of online information is that the material is not always where you first found it, or the website that you discovered the information has disappeared. For that purpose there is The Internet Archive who describe themselves as "building a digital library of Internet sites and other cultural artifacts in digital form. Like a paper library, we provide free access to researchers, historians, scholars, and the general public."

I started this trek over at Matt Weibe's site where he posed the question: Blogging: A Reliable Academic Source? He also has a couple of posts on blogging (Part One and Part Two). Two other sites that have some contributions to the topic are Blogging: Academia's Digital Divide? and The academic contributions of blogging.

This may or may not be useful information to you. However, in the midst of the work on my DMin, I need to often refer to or access the information on blogs and online sites because that is where most of the information about Emerging Church and Postmodernity is found. Much of the thinking and conversation is also happening in blog form and contributes to the topic in a significant way. I know I will be referring back to this post a number of times over the next few months.

1 comment:

hillschurch said...

My point in writing this is not to debunk or criticize Wikipedia. Maybe it's to reflect on my own growing wonder at the whole internet phenomenon. Open source, unhindered access is supposed to be the way to inclusion and wisdom and freedom - but many times we see the shortcomings of the system. A system like Wikipedia appeals to the passionate and interested - those with something to prove and those with time on their hands. It doesn't necessarily appeal to the level headed, self confident, nothing to prove types who have a realistic and maybe even wise view of the world. They couldn't care less about the machinations of the Wiki world. Unfortunately, the crowd mentality is pushed by the wind here and there and usually settles down to the level of the lowest common denominator.