Sunday, 7 March 2010

Wikipedia and Universities: What's with all the Hate?

I've always thought that there was something deeper to universities hatred of Wikipedia. Whenever people are told what to cite and how in their papers, lab reports, etc., they are usually treated to the "never, never cite Wikipedia" rule. There are some good reasons for this, i.e. anyone can modify most articles, which means that's obviously note as good as a text book or research paper that someone has published, but there is also a general "bah, Wikipedia" feeling which is often explicitly stated. Consider that it's actually as accurate as Britannica with its scientific articles. The brings up an important question- why all the hate?

This is because it fundamentally threatens the concept of the university. They exist based on the premise that knowledge is exclusive, and should be payed for (at least in the US, and to a lesser degree the UK), and Wikipedia threatens that by making knowledge on anything easily accessible to the general public. If the format evolves, and especially their side project of Wikiversity and Wikibooks, it has the potential to turn give a dedicated layperson knowledge that would only have been previously possible with a university course.

This isn't to say that Wikipedia threatens to completely overthrow universities- that would be absurd, especially considering the need for feedback and face-to-face learning in general- but it does mean that universities might lose their monopoly on advanced knowledge. Hence their dismissivness and contempt towards the idea.

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