Hi Everyone,
 From the NY Times at

February 21, 2007
A History Department Bans Citing Wikipedia as a Research Source

When half a dozen students in Neil Waters's Japanese history class at 
Middlebury College asserted on exams that the Jesuits supported the 
Shimabara Rebellion in 17th-century Japan, he knew something was wrong. The 
Jesuits were in "no position to aid a revolution," he said; the few of them 
in Japan were in hiding.

He figured out the problem soon enough. The obscure, though incorrect, 
information was from Wikipedia, the collaborative online encyclopedia, and 
the students had picked it up cramming for his exam.

Dr. Waters and other professors in the history department had begun 
noticing about a year ago that students were citing Wikipedia as a source 
in their papers. When confronted, many would say that their high school 
teachers had allowed the practice.

But the errors on the Japanese history test last semester were the last 
straw. At Dr. Waters's urging, the Middlebury history department notified 
its students this month that Wikipedia could not be cited in papers or 
exams, and that students could not "point to Wikipedia or any similar 
source that may appear in the future to escape the consequences of errors."

With the move, Middlebury, in Vermont, jumped into a growing debate within 
journalism, the law and academia over what respect, if any, to give 
Wikipedia articles, written by hundreds of volunteers and subject to 
mistakes and sometimes deliberate falsehoods. Wikipedia itself has 
restricted the editing of some subjects, mostly because of repeated 
vandalism or disputes over what should be said.

Although Middlebury's history department has banned Wikipedia in citations, 
it has not banned its use. Don Wyatt, the chairman of the department, said 
a total ban on Wikipedia would have been impractical, not to mention 
close-minded, because Wikipedia is simply too handy to expect students 
never to consult it.

At Middlebury, a discussion about the new policy is scheduled on campus on 
Monday, with speakers poised to defend and criticize using the site in 

Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia and chairman emeritus of its 
foundation, said of the Middlebury policy, "I don't consider it as a 
negative thing at all."

He continued: "Basically, they are recommending exactly what we suggested - 
students shouldn't be citing encyclopedias. I would hope they wouldn't be 
citing Encyclopaedia Britannica, either.

"If they had put out a statement not to read Wikipedia at all, I would be 
laughing. They might as well say don't listen to rock 'n' roll either."

Indeed, the English-language version of the site had an estimated 38 
million users in the United States in December, and can be hard to avoid 
while on the Internet. Google searches on such diverse subjects as 
historical figures like Confucius and concepts like torture give the 
Wikipedia entry the first listing.

In some colleges, it has become common for professors to assign students to 
create work that appears on Wikipedia. According to Wikipedia's list of 
school and university projects, this spring the University of East Anglia 
in England and Oberlin College in Ohio will have students edit articles on 
topics being taught in courses on the Middle East and ancient Rome.

In December 2005, a Columbia professor, Henry Smith, had the graduate 
students in his seminar create a Japanese bibliography project, posted on 
Wikipedia, to describe and analyze resources like libraries, reference 
books and newspapers. With 16 contributors, including the professor, the 
project comprises dozens of articles, including 13 on different Japanese 
dictionaries and encyclopedias.

In evaluations after the class, the students said that creating an 
encyclopedia taught them discipline in writing and put them in contact with 
experts who improved their work and whom, in some cases, they were later 
able to interview.

"Most were positive about the experience, especially the training in 
writing encyclopedia articles, which all of them came to realize is not an 
easy matter," Professor Smith wrote in an e-mail message. "Many also 
retained their initial ambivalence about Wikipedia itself."

The discussion raised by the Middlebury policy has been covered by student 
newspapers at the University of Pennsylvania and Tufts, among others. The 
Middlebury Campus, the student weekly, included an opinion article last 
week by Chandler Koglmeier that accused the history department of 
introducing "the beginnings of censorship."

Other students call the move unnecessary. Keith Williams, a senior majoring 
in economics, said students "understand that Wikipedia is not a responsible 
source, that it hasn't been thoroughly vetted." Yet he said, "I personally 
use it all the time."

Jason Mittell, an assistant professor of American studies and film and 
media culture at Middlebury, said he planned to take the pro-Wikipedia side 
in the campus debate. "The message that is being sent is that ultimately 
they see it as a threat to traditional knowledge," he said. "I see it as an 
opportunity. What does that mean for traditional scholarship? Does 
traditional scholarship lose value?"

For his course "Media Technology and Cultural Change," which began this 
month, Professor Mittell said he would require his students to create a 
Wikipedia entry as well as post a video on YouTube, create a podcast and 
produce a blog for the course.

Another Middlebury professor, Thomas Beyer, of the Russian department, 
said, "I guess I am not terribly impressed by anyone citing an encyclopedia 
as a reference point, but I am not against using it as a starting point."

And yes, back at Wikipedia, the Jesuits are still credited as supporting 
the Shimabara Rebellion.

Judith K. Graves
Digital Projects Coordinator
Library of Congress
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