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Should Students Use Wikipedia?

• Rhett Allain via
 Imagine the following fake conversation with a student:

Student: The instructor in another course said something about antimatter. What is antimatter? Where could I read about that?

Me: Well, you could go to Wikipedia. I am sure the page on anti-matter has a nice summary.

Student: Wikipedia??? Really? I thought all faculty hated Wikipedia. We were told it’s not a good thing to use.

Interesting. What do faculty think about students using Wikipedia? I have this unjustified feeling that it is a fairly straightforward source for basic information. Let me take a look at a few pages:

Antimatter. Cave Diving. The Momentum Principle. Rhett Allain.

Looking at this sample, how accurate are these pages? The antimatter page seems to have a good summary of the topic with no obvious errors. There was one issue with the cave diving page. It shows a picture of a cave diver with a wetsuit but without a hood. This is just unrealistic. Really, if you do any serious cave diving, you need a hood and probably a dry suit. For caves in Florida, the water is around 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Without a hood, you are just going to lose too much thermal energy through your head. Sure, the caves in Mexico are much warmer, but still I would wear a hood.

Apparently, there isn’t a Wikipedia page on the Momentum Principle. I thought that was odd. Well, the page on Impulse (physics) seems to be essentially the same as the momentum principle. It isn’t exactly what I would write, but it isn’t wrong either. Of course, I could probably say the same complaint about many of the physics textbooks. Finally, the Rhett Allain page is brief — but again not wrong.

Is Wikipedia evil? I don’t think so

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