Bihishtābād

The History, Art and Architecture of the Mughal Empire

Assignment 7 / II

There has recently been a debate on whether Wikipedia should be used as a source in scientific writing. It would be difficult to dispute the answer is affirmative in regard to cases where Wikipedia itself is the subject of a scientific problem. Elsewhere, its usefulness may be less obvious, notwithstanding the absurdity of appeals to have an outright ban on quoting it. If we are to have a climate of free scientific inquiry, what sources are used must be left to the discretion of each individual author. It is not for his peers to decide what and how he must write, though once his work is shared, they will be in the position to critique it. We cannot rely on getting our hypotheses or methods perfectly right, but we must certainly rely on their receiving reasoned critique, against which their staying-power and (and validity) is measured. One’s freedom to advance any argument in any fashion using any evidence whatsoever is as much a part of scientific discourse, as is the freedom of others to reject the work as inadequate. If one uses sources that fail to stand up against critical scrutiny of one’s peers, one’s own argument is at a loss – and one would have perhaps been better advised to use sources that inspire confidence. After all, one is trying to provide credible evidence for and against conjectures. We cannot establish absolute truth, but the critical peer process of conjectures and refutations, as Popper called it, is still the best we have of at least eliminating falsehoods. And Wikipedia, in this respect, is lacking. Indeed, Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, himself acknowledges:

just because a hundred people claims something, it doesn’t mean it’s true. But when a hundred Wikipedians claim something, it might be worth having a closer look at.”

Investigated, that is, not relied upon. In this sense he seems to agree with Maren Lorenz, a fierce critic of the use of Wikipedia in scientific discourse, who recognises Wikipedia can be useful

as an initial orientation, especially regarding subjects unknown to [her], or to find at the bottom of the article links to more reliable sources.”

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