Friday, July 06, 2007

No Wikipedia on the bibliography, please

I received this one paper to review for an economic journal. I returned it to the Editor with notes for the author, among which was "please do not rely your argument(s) on reference like Wikipedia". Of course if the argument were sound and flawless, I wouldn't even care whether he cited something or not. But it was not sound and it was flawed, I think. No, I have nothing personal against Wikipedia. In fact, I think, it is a very useful resource for curious people like you and me.

But, not as a key reference for an academic paper. Wikipedia is a good place to find facts, numbers, etc. It is even a useful place where you can be directed to reference somewhere else that is more credible. But, it is not by and in itself a reference. Basing an argument on what posted in Wikipedia itself is shaky, since everybody can change or add entry to the post any time. It is in fact designed to work that way, i.e. open encyclopedia. It is true that any false entries (or even vandalism) will eventually get corrected by those who care about the given post, but you never know if what you take from it is already the correct(ed) one or not.

(Of course blogs suffer the same thing. Blogs are for fun, not for academic citation).

By the way, this reminds me of an event organized by students last month. I was asked to participate in an academic writing workshop. The authors, they also seemed to like Wikipedia so much. But there was one case that's even worse. The author was writing a paper on labor market. She used not only Wikipedia as her main reference, but also some ... motivational books. Not that motivational books or chicken soups et cetera are bad, but for an academic paper? Yes, I get motivated when I read some fancy novels, but at least I kept them out of my papers (except maybe when I am writing literary criticism which may never happen).


  1. heheheh..

    Citing a motivational book for an academic paper in labor economics??

    It is fun..

    Next time, I should quote "Wiro Sableng or even Harry Potter" for my econ theory paper :D



  2. As an adjunct professor in College Writing and Rhetoric (, I never accept Wikipedia (and other Wikis) as an academic reference. You never know who added and edited the entries. There had been many "false identities" among Wiki editors, including a few faux PhD holders who were in reality not more than a bunch of high school kids.

    Furthermore, as a motivational book author, I totally agree that an academic paper *must not* include books of such genre. Motivational books are the *most subjective* of all kinds of writing. Full of mumbo jumbo of "you can do it" and cheerleading stuff.

    One ought to keep both academic and subjective writings completely separate, especially for a paper to be credible and acceptable academically.

    Thank you for this posting. I think I should forward it to some of my students as well.

  3. "(Of course blogs suffer the same thing. Blogs are for fun, not for academic citation)."

    it's notable that a recent book review in nature (yes, nature, the scientific journal with perhaps the highest citation impact of all) is about an anthology of best writings from a handful of authoritative science bloggers.

    in my own field, at least, theoretical ideas and readily testable hypotheses (sometime better than those found in conventional journals) abound in some blogs, most of them here:

    i personally would like to see (authoritative) blogs being one of the citable mediums, as this would surely speed up scientific communication at no cost. why not peer-review blog postings, for instance.

  4. Sometime there is the need for academic research to debunk popular ideas that are not published in academic papers/books.

    This is problematic. Some would complain about using non-academic resources. Yet, if left unchallenged, the idea can be very popular so that most people, especially non-specialist, will think it's true. So you have a catch-22 situation here.

  5. Mike: "Next time, I should quote "Wiro Sableng or even Harry Potter" for my econ theory paper :D"

    Actually, "Obelix and Co." edition of Asterix is a better one to explain demand and supply.

    And Cheshire Cat's famous remark "(which way should you take) depands on where do you want to go" is a good one to explain the public policy problem.

  6. Indeed, that was fun, Mike. Jennie, thanks! Tirta, I guess that would be a long way to go; at least in econ, I know no one cites Becker-Posner blog in any serious paper. Although B-P blog I think is the most authoritative econ blog now. And Roby, I guess I share your point, it's a catch-22 situation. A.p., I prefer TV series, House. Decision in medical profession is really, at the margin.