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Should wikipedia be discouraged here?

+ 2 like - 0 dislike
23 views

Answering questions on physics forums I noticed that while for educational questions it is sometimes useful just to give a reference to wikipedia, for less-than-obvious questions it does not work. Sometimes articles there are written by professionals (which also may be a problem: e.g. mathematical part is full of category theory which is overkill and good habit of rephrasing the article in scholar terms is not always followed) and sometimes they are just incorrect or misleading. Even when I am really lazy, I still have to go through the article, check that it is more or less correct and only then give a link.

For a research-level questions (which are supposed to be asked here) it seems that it is never a good idea to give a link to the wikipedia. There are two options: either you do not need this reference because everyone involved knows what you are talking about, or the link should be given to a review paper which is much more error-proof.

Probably, this may be formulated as a rule. Maybe just put in the FAQ.

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
asked Sep 16, 2011 in SE.TP.discussion by Nestoklon (340 points) [ no revision ]
@Joe: I would suggest, given Wikipedia's editorial policy and model, that we provide a disclaimer whenever linking to Wikipedia. The purpose of our project is to allow researchers to ask fellow researchers questions - with the expectation of trustworthiness and reliability as is possible in this setting. ... Wikipedia articles -- while many of them very useful and enlightening -- aren't governed by policies of peer-review and fact-verification. Linking to Wikipedia articles seems like a bad idea imho. Rather, the first point of reference should be (established) review articles or similar.

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
Sometimes linking to wikipedia article can be useful, particularly when the answer to the question may come from a different field. As an example, differential geometry has been used to prove results about the optimal control of spin chains and it is entirely possible that someone doing this kind of thing would run into a question that could easily be solved by, say, someone working on general relativity or a string theorist. By linking to a relevant wikipedia article the asker might make the question far more accessible to people from different backgrounds who use similar tools.

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
True. | From my experience though, [and maybe you'll also agree], Wikipedia has both some of the best and most useful / constructive sources of information available on the Net, and some of the worst. ... It just seemed appropriate - given our site's modus operandi - to have a well-formulated set of guidelines (if not *per-se rules*) to maintain the overall level of content. ... Just a thought...

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
@UGPhysics: I think everyone here knows what Wikipedia is. I also think it is a bad idea to add too many rules which require users to actively do stuff: eg use a specific template, add a disclaimer, etc. It will just make the site harder to use.

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)

3 Answers

+ 11 like - 0 dislike

I find wikipedia articles very useful for clarifying terminology. There are two kinds of research questions. There is the kind that is very specialised to one research field and the answer is likely to come from someone with the same specialisation. There is no need for wikipedia in those cases. Then there is the kind where someone encounters a question in their own field but knows that the answer may well come from a different field. That, after all, is the beauty of theoretical physics methods, that they are often applicable outside the field for which they were originally invented. Those are the questions where wikipedia can help to make sure that everyone is communicating well.

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
answered Sep 16, 2011 by Gustav Delius (540 points) [ no revision ]
+ 5 like - 0 dislike

Personally, I find linking to some source, be it wikipedia or anything else, to be helpful in many cases. In particular, it isn't always clear to me whether the questioner is using the terminology in the same way as I am. It isn't always even known to the questioner that the term may have multiple meanings. I'm sure one can come up with extreme examples of this, but I won't bother here.

Linking eliminates the need to go through long strings of definitions just to make sure everyone knows what you are talking about. However, I do agree that it isn't necessary if the term is well-known. It can be overdone (I decided to remove wiki links in my question since the terms were unambiguous), but I don't think it's really much harm when it is done because people who stumble onto the question without the background can still get something out of it.

I have to disagree with your statement that we should avoid posting any links to Wikipedia because they might be incorrect. It seems to me that if there are errors, it is worthwhile to the larger physics community as a whole that these get pointed out and corrected, and a link from here is probably fairly likely to do so. I don't have much comment on your other issues with Wikipedia, as I haven't experienced them enough to have an opinion.

However, I agree that linking to a review paper, at least when available, is a better idea. Ideally Wikipedia would be the more error-proof of the two, since errors can be corrected immediately rather than only via an errata, but practically this rarely happens. With that in mind, I find myself ultimately supporting this proposal.

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
answered Sep 16, 2011 by Logan Maingi (210 points) [ no revision ]
I understand your point. However, personally I am trying to avoid this when discussing something non-educational. It seemed interesting to discuss this. P.S. By the way, links in your post were IMO the only reasonable example to cite wikipedia.

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
+ 5 like - 0 dislike

I agree with Logan, Linking to Wikipedia shouldn't be a problem.

Those Wikipedia Articles, especially the research level ones are written by people "like this community". So, it's kind of like reading an Answer here on TP. As long as the reader keeps this in mind, he should double-check everything he reads.

Wikipedia is however a great "first impression" of the given subject and a GREAT place to look for references! This is where wikipedia really shines in my opinion. Most of the time I simply look at the reference links at the bottom of the page.

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
answered Sep 16, 2011 by Michael Kissner (230 points) [ no revision ]

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