Despite the fact it has consumed an obscene amount of my time since 2005, I am entirely unrepentant. I'm even kind of proud. Through constant clicking from one article to another, I have garnered copious volumes of information on a subjects from medieval history to quantum field theory , often at the expense of sleep. On the plus side, it has made me a formidable force at table quizzes.
But this post isn't a JUST going to be a love letter to what may be one of the most valuable resources of the 21st century. There's a creeping quasi-intellectual cynicism about Wikipedia - an assumption that such a collaboration is inherently untrustworthy. This isn't strictly true, but using Wikipedia (or actually, any source) correctly requires a modicum of savvy, so allow me to try and give you "The Golden rule of using Wikipedia"
|You know your Wikipediphilia is out of hand when it starts interrupting your porn viewing...|
- ALWAYS follow the citation sources for an article, given in the little blue brackets to check two things; (I) that the source itself is reliable and (II) that the source is in agreement with the tone of the article.
In essence, this is all you need to know about using Wikipedia correctly; if the citations are reliable, and the material supports the conclusions in the article, then it is fine. But never skimp on this crucial step. There are a few subtle other points and Wikipedia themselves have an excellent article on how to use Wikipedia for research that is well worth a read but CHECK YOUR SOURCES in gigantic capital letters is the take home message.
The converse of this is not to be a total cretin when someone links you to a Wikipedia article; I have lost count of the amount of times I have linked someone on Twitter to Wikipedia article, usually because they have utterly wrong about something which the very first paragraph would put them right on, to which they reply something condescending about expecting a higher standard of evidence.
Let me be perfectly clear - if you're that person, you're an idiot. If I linked you to a Wikipedia article, it was solely because all the information you needed on the subject or whatever particular delusion you were labouring under was CONTAINED WITHIN THAT ONE LINK. When you reply something dismissive, all you're doing is telling me you're a pseudo-intellectual who lacks the cognitive capacity to read and check what you're reading is correct. Wikipedia isn't the research source; it's a damn useful way of putting a wealth of information about a topic in one place.
Wikipedia is one of those projects that reminds me there is still some shred of hope for humanity - that people give their free time to collect, share and index human thought is inspiring. Experts maintain many of the articles, with the net effect of improving discourse and understanding. I've tried to contribute in my own small way as an academic by adding to articles pertaining to my doctoral and research areas, and I know many scientists who have done the same. Wikipedia will make us better critical thinkers in a more democratic manner, and better informed people as a result. Let's resist denigrating it and see if for the wonderful and free resource it truly is.
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