Remember all those times your teachers and professors told you that you could not, under any circumstances, use Wikipedia as a source for a research paper? It's generally good advice. Despite the site's best efforts, inaccuracies always crop up. But most students go ahead and use the online encyclopedia anyway, even if they don't cite it. Now a group of professors and students at Imperial College London hope to start legitimizing Wikipedia as a research source by joining forces to improve the content on the pages.
The effort makes sense given the massive size of the site. With over 18 million articles and 365 million visitors each month, Wikipedia is the connected world's go-to reference source. The president of the campus group Wikipedians at Imperial College, medical student Vinesh Patel, told BBC News that "Wikipedia is here to stay—it's a question of whether we come up to speed with it or try to ignore it."
Patel hopes to coordinate students and staff at Imperial and other schools to "make the most of Wikipedia, rather than pretend it's not there." To that end, he's coordinating an April conference focused on bringing academia together to improve the quality and consistency of information the site the offers.
Some scholars have already embraced Wikipedia wholeheartedly. One of the most prolific, former Cambridge math professor Charles Matthews, has already edited over 200,000 Wikipedia pages. And Wikipedia itself reached out last year to several universities to encourage them to get involved in editing pages. If the push for well-coordinated, collaborative, high quality academic involvement in Wikipedia truly gets off the ground, the online encyclopedia could become a legitimate information source, bringing its days in research paper purgatory to an end.