Thursday, February 22, 2007

EDITORIAL: Do your research

EDITORIAL: Do your research

Wikipedia's slogan is "the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit." Anyone. Meaning it doesn't require a degree in a particular field or any specific expertise -- just Internet access.

The editing is monitored somewhat rigidly, but the point remains -- Wikipedia is not a credible source.

Most students are aware of this, but not all have abandoned using the public encyclopedia as a legitimate source of info.

According to a Feb. 21 New York Times article, six Middlebury College students taking a Japanese history course wrote on a test that Jesuits supported the Shimabara Rebellion. This is false, but according to Wikipedia, it is correct.

The class's professor, Neil Waters, is fed up with students taking the website's material as fact. He has justly moved to eliminate Wikipedia citations.

Relying on the collaborative encyclopedia demonstrates laziness and sloppy study habits. Students should search elsewhere for information.

That isn't to say Wikipedia can't be a useful tool. It is a great launch point for many research projects. It contains more than a million and a half articles in English, and a lot of the material is truthful.

But students must not rely solely on Wikipedia. Because anyone can edit its articles, the website's information is not trustworthy. The half-dozen Middlebury students learned that after fouling up their Japanese history exam.

There is no excuse for someone to cite Wikipedia, because most universities put a myriad of different resources at their community's fingertips. Boston University subscribes to databases such as LexisNexis and JStor with hopes that students use them.

It may be easier to find material on Wikipedia because it doesn't require as much sifting through articles, but, students can still access these other highly credible online research sites while in their pajamas.

When composing an academic paper, writers would never get away with citing a biased website. So students shouldn't be permitted to reference Wikipedia, which could contain biased information anyone is allowed to modify.

Those that argue Waters's ban is a form of censorship should reconsider their stance. He is not saying students can't use the website; he is just mandating they don't rely on it.

Students who use Wikipedia as a crutch will be crippled academically. Waters is simply trying to keep everyone's studying in shape.

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