Here is the story. Fresher student wants to write the single best essay they have ever attempted. Student searches keyword in Google. Student clicks on first entry on the page that will usually end with, for example …/wiki/French_Revolution. Student reads, believes, cites, and references Wikipedia. Student hand in essay, waits, and fails. Or maybe does not fail but is told in no uncertain terms NEVER to reference Wikipedia.
How many of you can relate to this story? Is that unnamed student you? It was me at some point I can promise you that, but, I quickly learned my lesson.
What are my research options?
The degree I read was BSc. Sport Sciences, a degree heavily rooted in biology, psychology, and biomechanics amongst a few other smaller disciplines. This made researching a particular topic a tiresome and endless process using multiple online databases that spewed out vast amounts of scientific literature in answer to a single keyword entry. For example, the definition of DNA, I’d enter “DNA” and hit “search” only to be confronted by thousands of articles, half of which were inaccessible, some written in Spanish, French or German, and others were published in the early 1900s long before sport science, as a discipline, existed. Alternatively, I type”DNA” into Google and I’m provided with …/wiki/DNA. what do I do? I need a simple definition DNA and I face the choice of sifting through tens of PDF documents or opening up a browser window that will display the definition of DNA according to someone that entered it into the wiki database. The answer is simply neither
Wikipedia has revolutionised the way that we can access information I agree, but these wonders have far too often been infiltrated by individuals seeking to destroy all that is great about the site using the “anybody can edit” feature. Examples of this have been highlighted in the press, for example, Wikipedia’s biography of John Seigenthaler Sr. where nearly the complete article was false and linked him with the assassination of JFK and was posted on the site for 132 days. Another example is that of Chris Benoit where a person wrote about the death of Nancy Benoit 12 hours before it actually happened. A coincidence or otherwise I am not sure but the whole situation infers that Wikipedia is an unstable, unreliable, and a limited resource.
What can I use instead?
Citizendium. A compendium initially set up to serve as mirror of Wikipedia where expert authors would edit the posts deemed inaccurate, this mission was recently altered and the site now contains its own original database of posts. Citizendium aims to stamp out the aforementioned accuracy, post hijacking, and general limitations of Wikipedia by implementing fundamental principles. These include:
For a greater depth of information regarding the policies then click on http://en.citizendium.org/wiki/Citizendium.
I read the page Why Citizendium? because I do not completely understand why they are trying to out do Wikipedia. The page is written in a manner that initially compares the two sites and basically declares that Citizendium is better, however, towards the end of the article they set Citizendium apart from Wikipedia and discuss its merits independently. An interesting read to say the least.
The founders of Citizendium strongly believe that they can catch up with the millions of articles contained within Wikipedia. Why? The Citizendium added five million words in its first year – more than Wikipedia achieved. The authors do not believe that Wikipedia is simply “good enough”, they state that it is full of inaccuracies that blemish the massive database, editors “squat” on posts ensuring that they are never edited in a way that does not suit their personal opinion, textual vandalism is rife due to the anonymous author feature. The Citizendium authors believe that real names will stamp out hijacking of posts because people are considerate when a name is on the line, expert approval will ensure that nobodies will not be able to approve an article as fact, and sensible governance is better. New participants, called Citizens, are required to agree to the Statement of Fundamental Policies, and are reined in upon by Constables when/if they behave irresponsibly.
The Citizendium also offers supplementary reference material or sub pages.
The Citizendium has “subpages.” These are pages, such as Bibliography or Related Articles, attached to a main (encyclopedia) page via a standard table. A main article together with its subpages is called a “cluster.” You might look at the Biology article and its subpages–our “biology cluster”–as an example.
The purpose of subpages is to provide supplementary and background information to allow people to find all different types of information about a topic.
This in my opinion is a superb addition to the wiki model, subpages offered to you on a plate by experts in the field. The numerous hours that I used to spend looking for a decent video clip of a sporting action will never be returned to me but for you this should not be an issue.
Another useful addition is Signed Articles.
Signed articles are introductory, overview, general review, and perspectival articles attributed to one person or a small group of people. Such articles have two fundamental requirements: first, they must be characterizable as reference material, and neither brand new research nor mere polemics; second, they must be crafted by people who are unquestionably experts on the topic in question.
Basically, academic experts can post their personal opinion about a post contained in Citizendium. This to me in genius. In science, as with many subjects I suppose, there are differing views on almost all topics. In psychology there are; Cognitive, Behavioural, Psychoanalytic, Humanistic, Biological, among other paradigms, prominent psychologists from each of these will undoubtedly have fairly opposing views on the formation of personality, who is to say which views are correct and which are not. With Signed Articles you can follow the arguments from different perspectives and devise a theory or belief of your own.
The final word from the founder of Wikipedia himself
Jimmy Wales, the site’s founder, has acknowledged Wikipedia’s limitations. “If what you are after is ‘Who won the World Cup in 1984′, Wikipedia is going to be fine,” he said. “If you want to know something more esoteric, or something controversial, you should probably use a second reference – at least.”