Having started school again, the chore of writing term papers have followed. I have one huge gripe that I want to make. In these papers, one is cripplingly limited to using sources from academia. Online sources, such as blogs and Wikipedia articles, are explicitly forbidden.
I am aware of the argument that the web is an open bulletin board that anyone can publish on, and that information maybe at times, unreliable. However, I feel that institutions are living in the past and removed from the modern developments of the information age, refusing to acknowledge the changes that have been taking place. Knowledge and ideas are no longer distributed in the form of a pyramid, with the institutions at the top, and the people at the bottom, but rather, the pyramid has been flatted down to a plateau, where everyone, and anyone, can make an equally useful contribution. Ideas originate less from national research labs and more from the entrepreneur spirit of individuals in their basements, with the web acting as a platform for the exchange of these ideas. In 2006, Time magazine recognized this paradigm shift, acknowledging the contributions of the masses by naming the person of the year, “You”. Refusing to accept the open web as a source is tantamount to alienating a large source of information.
It is precisely the openness of the web itself that makes it such a valuable source. Ideas are published without being held back by funding, and are exposed to an even larger “peer review” process. If you ventured a look at the one of the ‘talk’ pages for a particular Wikipedia article, you’ll realize that there is a lot of meaningful discussion that goes on behind it.
There is nothing that makes Wikipedia less reliable than Encyclopedia Britannica, for example. On the contrary, Encyclopedia Britannica positions itself as an authoritative source on a subject, a bible of information which one has to accept as being ‘true’, when often, there’s room for debate.
As for the matter that only sources from academic papers are considered reliable and accepted, I have this to say. The very idea that knowledge has to come from a certain source, accessible through expensive publications and where opinions are limited only to an exclusive group of people, is repressive.
Then again, quoting Upton Sinclair, it is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it.