User:Bilby/Academics and Wikipedia

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Introduction will go here, as soon as I work out what to say.


Editing Wikipedia can be a rewarding pursuit for academics, and having academics involved in the project is a great benefit to Wikipedia. Academics bring to a number of skills, not the least of which is their expertise on many subjects and their ability to both research and summarise materials. Meanwhile, Wikipedia gives academics an opportunity to reach a much wider audience than is typical through more traditional means, such as academic publications, presentations and lectures.

However, there are a number of issues that should be kept in mind when working on Wikipedia. Some of these relate to core policies and guidelines, while others are aspects Wikipedia's community.

Wikipedia terminology[edit]

  • Editors
  • Administrators
  • Articles
  • Talk
  • User space
  • Notability

The encyclopedia that anyone can edit[edit]

Wikipedia's slogan, "The encyclopedia that anyone can edit", means exactly that - anyone can be involved,[1] and thus editors do not need to display any special expertise in order to be part of the project. Therefore editors on any given article may range from well published experts in the field through to high school (or, in some cases, primary school) students with only a basic knowledge of the material. This is, on the whole, a positive for Wikipedia - it allows Wikipedia to capitalise on the collective intelligence of its editors, who, as a community, "think together" to cope with the complexity of reviewing new submissions.[2] In addition, different editors bring different strengths to article writing. Some are experts on the subject, others can source photographs or create diagrams for the article, others have copyediting skills, some editors bring a knowledge of Wikipedia's processes, and some offer alternative viewpoints that might otherwise have been missed or ignored.

On the minus side, it is worth noting that when academics write papers, they generally do so individually or with a small team of collaborators - rarely more than four, and normally just one or two. Even when collaborating, academics usually get some say in who their collaborators will be. This is not the case in Wikipedia. While it is possible to write an article on your own, at some point other editors are going to become involved (if they aren't already), and often these editors will not be the people you would choose to work with. This can represent an opportunity - it can be exciting and enjoyable to work with a random group of people, and there is much to be said for the experience - but it can also be problematic, and it is likely to be very different from how you would normally approach things. In addition, subject-matter experts carry no special weight when it comes to determining content in Wikipedia. Thus you may find yourself arguing against people who lack your expertise and knowledge of the topic, and, indeed, this is an expected part of the process. This can be frustrating, but it is worth remembering that Wikipedia has processes - both as part of the policies and guidelines and as part of the dispute resolution process - which can be used to resolve conflicts, and that other editors may be bringing something other than raw expertise to the table.

Verifiability, not truth[edit]

One of only a very small number of core policies in Wikipedia, it is important to remember that the threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth. This means that if you, as an expert in the subject or otherwise, know that something is true, the content cannot be included unless you can provide a published reliable source that clearly supports the material. In addition, the burden of proof rests upon you as the person adding the material, not on someone who contests its inclusion. The reverse is also true - if another editor inserts reliably sourced information that you know to be false, it can be difficult to remove that content unless you can provide a better source disproving the content.

This may appear to be counter-intuitive, but it is worth remembering that Wikipedia is trying to cope with a diverse set of viewpoints from an undefined and variable set of people. Thus some method of determining a threshold for inclusion is required. Relying on expert testimony is only viable if a) it is possible to confirm that the person is an expert, and b) if it can be shown that all experts agree.[3] As this isn't possible within the Wikipedia system, verifiability becomes the threshold for inclusion - if it can be shown that a reliable source made the claim, then that claim can be included in Wikipedia.[4]

Original research[edit]

As an academic it is expected that you will conduct original research into topics, and that your publications will further people's understanding of a topic by revealing new interpretations, information and findings. This is not how Wikipedia works. On Wikipedia, original research is out - you are expected to present what is found in reliable sources, but not to present information that is outside of those sources, nor to analyse or synthesise material from their contents. As a policy this follows from verification: if the material is original, then it will not be found in published reliable sources, and if it is not to be found in reliable sources, then it is not verifiable (at least as Wikipedia uses the term).

One way of approaching this policy is to view Wikipedia as a literature review: the aim is to report on what is found in the literature, rather than to present new findings and original thought.

Neutral point of view[edit]

Conflicts of interest[edit]

Consensus and dispute resolution[edit]


Notability and the deletion process[edit]


There are two major concerns when faced with referencing on Wikipedia - what needs to be referenced, and how to add the cite.

When to add a reference[edit]

The offical answer is that you must provide a reference when providing direct quotes, uploading images, adding material to a biography of a living person, and when adding content that has been (or is likely to be) challenged by another author. The unofficial answer is that it is best if every claim is sourced, whether or not you believe it to be uncontroversial. The problem that you face is that the article will be viewed by people unfamiliar with the subject (which is, of course, the intent of an article on Wikipedia), and thus their questioning might follow surprising patterns.




  1. ^ Noting, however, that editors can be banned or blocked, and that individual pages can be protected so that only established editors can edit them (semi-protection) or fully protected so that only administrators can make changes.
  2. ^ Thomas Malone; quoted in Miller, Peter (July 2007). "The Genius of Swarms". National Geographic. 212 (1): 126–147. Retrieved 2009-09-04. 
  3. ^ An alternative project, Citizendium, has attempted to meet the first of these conditions, but it is not viable nor currently desirable to do so on Wikipedia.
  4. ^ This does not mean that all reliably sourced material must be included in Wikipedia, only that it can be included. Content can be reasonably restricted on other grounds.