Street Knowledge

You asked for input on Wiki, so here's mine:  I ban the use of Wikipedia as a reference source for all my classes.  The reason is simple: because it IS open to editing by everyone.  I don't consider myself a guardian of the Ivory Tower as much as someone who has worked and published within my field (physics), and wishes my students to understand how hard it truly is to obtain new scientific knowledge.  As Einstein said, "God is subtle, but not malicious."

I only allow the use of peer-reviewed publications for outside references in any physics research topic.  We can argue about the the peer-review system, but it is what we use and despite its imperfections works fairly well within physics.  There really is something to be said about a publication that has been vetted by experts within a field before publication.  I'm sorry, but John/Jane Doe on the street really doesn't have the level of knowledge needed to do such work.  Yes, people outside a field can make a contribution from time to time.  Most recently I've seen a case where a statistician from economics is making some significant arguments with regard to climate change, and will probably publish in a peer-reviewed climate journal.  What bothers me about Wiki is that someone with no true understanding can come in and totally muck up a point of science that many people have worked very hard to understand over many years, and the students take what is said as gospel since it appears on Wikipedia!  

Remember, a pure democracy is not necessarily a very good form of government.  I think the same applies to keepers of human knowledge.

Michael Monce,  Connecticut College

*** To respond to this article or add other comments to the NAS discussion on "Wikipedia and Higher Education," please email [email protected].

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