Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Wetterstrom bans Wikipedia

Last July's issue of The Celator contains an editorial from Kerry Wetterstrom. Kerry has decided he can no longer accept articles that reference Wikipedia.

Kerry won't accept articles citing Wikipedia because 1) “trolls” are creating deliberate falsehoods in it, 2) Universities are banning the site and 3) An excellent Celator submission had errors in rulers dates and the source was Wikipedia.

I was working on a long rant against Kerry's policy, but instead of posting it I went to Wikipedia and updated the entry for Polyxenios and pointed out a problem with a Bopearachchi citation on the discussion page for Menander I.

I wish Kerry's editorial told us the names of the rulers with incorrect dates. I am currently interested in Polyxenios, but it probably wasn't him! Kerry's advice for getting information that is good enough for The Celator is to “... visit your local library, as they usually have the basic historical references.”

The only (modern) book I have that mentions Polyxenios is Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum: American Numismatic Society, part 9, Graeco-Bactrian and Indo-Greek Coins (1998) which places him circa 100 BC, presumably based merely on his coin sharing monograms with slighly less dubious Baktrian dynasts. Bopearachchi doesn't mention that R.C. Senior disagrees with him. I don't have Senior's books and don't know if he says why he disagrees with Bopearachchi.

Errors in regnal dates don't bother me. A good article on Polyxenious' coinage would still be good if the author followed Mr. Bopearachchi, Mr. Senior, or reported the disagreement when dating the coins. Kerry should re-consider. However, authors should also consider that citing Wikipedia makes them look kinda dumb. It is better to obtain the books and articles cited in the ===References=== section of the Wikipedia article and see what the experts actually said!


Moulton said...

Wikipedia is a tertiary source, which means it's not particularly reliable when it comes to academic subjects.

It would be like learning algebra from your cousin who read an article in the Washington Post about the subject.

Ed Snible said...

Some encyclopedias, like Britannica, are secondary because they get experts to write some of the articles. Wikipedia doesn't pay, but probably a lot of the articles are updated by graduate students in the subject, who have no other publication outlet for term papers.

I prefer a summary, one that includes the controversy, rather than a secondary source written by an expert like Bopearachchi who is so sure of dates he made up himself that he doesn't mention that R.C. Senior disagrees with him.

The Wikipedia entry for 'gorgon' used to be terrible, because the author used the TV show 'Xena, Warrior Princess' as a source without realizing the screenwriters made up a lot of stuff. Those mistakes are all gone. I suspect mistakes from the Post would also be removed.

Have you looked at the Wikipedia articles for algebra? The article on Polynomials presents them better than my school textbook did in the 1980s.

Anonymous said...


If you are looking for a recent article on Polyxenios, I wrote one in 2007: Jakobsson, J., “Relations between the Indo-Greek kings after Menander part 2”, Journal of the Oriental Numismatic Society, 193, 2007.

You've really got a great resource for ancient coins, I often frequent it. Feel free to contact me, jens.jakobsson[a..t]spray.se