20.084 student use of Wikipedia? Tonkawa texts?

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Thu, 29 Jun 2006 08:34:52 +0100

                Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 20, No. 84.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

   [1] From: "Alan Liu" <ayliu_at_english.ucsb.edu> (119)
         Subject: Request for Comment: draft policy statement on student
                 use of Wikipedia

   [2] From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk> (24)
         Subject: Tonkawa texts?

         Date: Thu, 29 Jun 2006 06:53:32 +0100
         From: "Alan Liu" <ayliu_at_english.ucsb.edu>
         Subject: Request for Comment: draft policy statement on
student use of Wikipedia

Dear Willard,

          This message is a request for comment (the humanities version of a
RFC). 2006 appears to be the year that undergraduate students discovered
Wikipedia in a big way. My colleagues and I have been seeing an increasing
number of papers that use Wikipedia inappropriately as the sole or primary
reference. For example, I just read a paper about the relation between
Structuralism, Deconstruction, and Postmodernism in which every reference
was to the Wikipedia articles on those topics with no awareness that there
was any need to read a primary work or even a critical work. After writing
comments to a number of students on this topic, I set to work on a general
policy statement addressed to the student that might be shared among my
local community of scholars (see draft below). I thought such a statement
might be of general use. I welcome any suggestions from, or discussion by,
the Humanist community as well as pointers to any similar statements that
may exist. (Still to do is a one-paragraph version of such a statement
suitable for inclusion in a course syllabus.)

--Alan Liu, UC Santa Barbara


          In recent years, Wikipedia (http://wikipedia.org) has become one of
the most important and useful resources on the Internet. Created by an open
community of authors (anyone can contribute, edit, or correct articles), it
has become a powerful resource for researchers to consult alongside other
established library and online resources. As in the case of all tools,
however, its value is a function of appropriateness. In the case of
college-level essays or research papers, students should keep in mind the
following two limitations, one applying to all encyclopedias, and the other
specifically to Wikipedia:

          (1) As in the case of any encyclopedia, Wikipedia is not appropriate
as the primary or sole reference for anything that is central to an
argument, complex, or controversial. "Central to an argument" means that
the topic in question is crucial for the paper. (For example, a paper
_about_ Shakespeare or postmodernism cannot rely on an encyclopedia article
on those topics.) "Complex" means anything requiring analysis, critical
thought, or evaluation. (For example, it is not persuasive to cite an
encyclopedia on "spirituality.") "Controversial" means anything that
requires listening to the original voices in a debate because no consensus
or conventional view has yet emerged. (For example, cite an encyclopedia on
the historical facts underlying a recent political election, but not on the
meaning or trends indicated by that election.)
          These limitations are due to the fact that encyclopedia articles are
second- or third-hand summaries. They are excellent starting points for
learning about something. But a college-level research paper or critical
essay needs to consult directly the articles, books, or other sources
mentioned by an encyclopedia article and use those as the reference. The
best such sources are those that have been refereed ("peer-reviewed" by
other scholars before acceptance for publication, which is the case for most
scholarly journals and books) or, in the case of current events,
journalistic or other resources that are relatively authoritative in their
          However, a Wikipedia citation can be an appropriate convenience when
the point being supported is minor, non-controversial, or also supported by
other evidence.
          In addition, Wikipedia is an appropriate source for some extremely
recent topics (especially in popular culture or technology) for which it
provides the sole or best available synthetic, analytical, or historical

          (2) Wikipedia has special limitations because it is an online
encyclopedia written by a largely unregulated, worldwide, and often
anonymous community of contributors. The principle of "many-eyes" policing
upon which Wikipedia depends for quality-control (that is, many people
looking at and correcting articles) works impressively well in many cases.
          (a) Wikipedia is currently an uneven resource. For example,
articles on technological or popular culture topics can sometimes be more
reliable, vetted (corrected by a community experts), or current than
articles on humanistic issues of the sort that students in literature,
history, and other humanities majors often need to research.
          (b) Some articles in Wikipedia are unreliable because they are the
contested terrain of "edit wars," political protest, or vandalism. Such
articles include both those on obviously controversial topics and on
unexpected topics. For a sobering sense of the limitations of Wikipedia,
consult the long list of "protected" Wikipedia articles (articles that
Wikipedia no longer, or at least not for now, allows users to edit in the
normal way in order to protect them from edit wars or other mischief):
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Protected_page>. (See also the
bibliography appended below on recent controversies about the reliability of
Wikipedia.) Students should also keep in mind that Wikipedia--like the
Internet as a whole--is edited globally. This means that topics related to
"United States," "China," "Tony Blair," or "World Cup soccer," for example
(and many others), are contested terrain.
          (c) Students should be aware that Wikipedia is a dynamic, constantly
mutating resource. Even if it is appropriate to cite it as a reference, the
citation is meaningless unless it includes the date on which the page was
accessed (which would allow a reader to use the Wikipedia "history" feature
to look up the specific version of the article being referenced). Indeed,
Wikipedia articles on some topics change so frequently (even to the extent
of vandals "reverting" to earlier scandalous misinformation) that a citation
should include the exact hour of access.

          Students should feel free to consult Wikipedia as one of the most
powerful instruments for opening knowledge that the Internet has yet
produced. But it is not a one-stop-shop for reliable knowledge. Indeed,
the term "encyclopedia" is somewhat to blame. Because it is communal,
dynamic, and unrefereed, Wikipedia is not really (or not just) an
encyclopedia of knowledge. It is better thought of as a combination of
encyclopedia and "blog." It is the world's blog.


Bibliography of Articles on the Controversy Regarding Wikipedia's

      * Steven Musil, "Wikipedia's Woes," C/NET News.com, 9 December 2005

      * John Seigenthaler, "A False Wikipedia 'Biography'," USA Today.com, 29
November 2005

      * Daniel Terdiman, "Study: Wikipedia as Accurate as Britannica," C/Net
News.com, 15 December 2005 <

      * Ray Cha, "Another Round: Britannica versus Wikipedia," if:book, 31
March 2006

      * Lisa Vaas, "Wikipedia Erects Accuracy Firewall," 19 December 2005

      * Katie Hafner, "Growing Wikipedia Revises Its 'Anyone Can Edit'
Policy," New York Times, 17 June 2006
=slogin&adxnnlx=1150630485-m7D+jesnoKz+kAAD8almhw> (alternative site:

         Date: Thu, 29 Jun 2006 06:55:53 +0100
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: Tonkawa texts?

[from Yuri Tambovtsev, yutamb_at_mail.ru]

Dear HunanistList colleagues, actually. we have computed the 168th
world language. I have found the book by Harry Hoijer "Tonkawa
Texts". University of California, 1972. I wonder if these Tonkawa
texts were computed to receive the frequency of occurrence of
phonemes. Where can I get the data on the frequency of occurrence of
Tonkawa phonemes? Were the data published? Who studies Tonkawa now?
To what subgroup, group and family does Tonkawa of Texas belong? It
has only 3 labial phonemes according to Harry Hoijer. I wonder if the
frequency of Tonkawa labials in the text is very low because of that?
Anyway, I wonder if I should compute the Tonkawa texts in order to
measure the sound picture of the Tonkawa language. After receiving
the sound picture of Tonkawa it is possible to compare it to the
sound picture of Siberian languages to find out if Tonkawa sound
typology is similar. Since the American Indian peoples came to
Americas through the former Bering ice bridge, it is quite possible
to find out the remaining typological characteristics in the sound
pictures of some AmerIndian languages and those of Siberia. This is
our goal. Looking forward to your comments to yutamb_at_mail.ru Remain
yours sincerely Yuri Tambovtsev

Dr Willard McCarty | Reader in Humanities Computing | Centre for
Computing in the Humanities | King's College London | Kay House, 7
Arundel Street | London WC2R 3DX | U.K. | +44 (0)20 7848-2784 fax:
-2980 || willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/wlm/
Received on Thu Jun 29 2006 - 03:57:07 EDT

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