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"intellectually honest"? What does that mean? It sounds suspiciously like an attempt to frame a debate. Suppose I call this rule "intellectually paranoid." Wouldn't that strike you as curious? (I am being serious, btw--what does it mean?) --KQ


It's typically considered intellectually dishonest to pass off another person's work as your own. "Intellectually honest" in this case means "honest about representing what one's sources are." Wikipedia is an interesting case, however, in that we don't claim most of the articles as our own, nor do we claim that the articles are original work. If, therefore, the only reason for citing sources is to make sure that no mistakenly believes that an article is the author's own work, we might as well not cite sources, because no one can labor under that misconception on Wikipedia--because there are no authors per se!

But there is value in acknowledging other creative individuals as the source of Nupedia's information. We just looked stuff up, in some cases anyway, and we did it without citing what we looked up. We aren't taking credit for this, but someone might mistakenly think that we are just really smart and we did all this research ourselves.

Maybe the better argument for citing sources is just to give people good links to further reading.  :-) --LMS


I hadn't considered the fact that we aren't claiming individual ownership of what we write. It just felt icky to me to use others' work and not acknowledge it. I also found myself consulting outside sources when I doubted some articles (and usually found the articles were, in fact, correct); providing reputable references may add strength to what we write when none of us can claim to be an expert.

Perhaps the term "intellectual honesty" doesn't need to be there, and maybe I should integrate some of what I've said here. I'll get back to it soon. -- Janet Davis


Ok. That phrase just raises hackles, sorry.  :-)

I'm not being intentionally dense (though I suspect I am being dense about it somehow, since other people seem to understand it)... but: what is the difference between looking it up in a book where someone else has already looked it up and verified it, and verifying it ourselves? At what point do we quit citing other people? (at what point is something considered well-enough known that it doesn't need to be cited?) Also, suppose I take information from the Unnameable Source, which is now in the public domain, and update it and put it here. That source lists references; am I obligated to list them as well? What about if we read something several years past but remembered it; suppose the original source of knowledge was not deduction of the facts but some long-forgotten source: are we "intellectually dishonest" if we do not cite that source? (This is not a rhetorical question, as I did read voraciously about Dave Brubeck 5 or 6 years ago, and did the same thing about Stephen King over 10 years ago: biographies, interviews, essays, prefaces, etc.)

I'm coming to believe increasingly that Thomas Jefferson should have won out in the copyright debate, as he is quite correct that once you have been given a notion, you can not rid yourself of it.... But that is not the point, as my rantings will have no effect on copyright law or the codified behavior of Intellectually Honest people. Please don't think I'm being glib; I honestly do not understand, and I don't intend the questions rhetorically. --KQ


KQ: Some of us forget stuff. Lots of stuff. All the time. For this reason, I write everything I consider professionally important into a notebook (math gets a LaTeX summary), complete with references to external material and cross-referenced internally. I try to find several different references for anything I don't understand well, because in my experience, any individual reference may be incorrect in some key point.

For wikipedia, references probably aren't very important, because encyclopedias are not viable references for scholarly work, outside of work explicitly concerning encyclopedias. (I have read at minimum several hundred papers in fields spanning geology to mathemetical mechanics and never once seen an encyclopedia reference.)

Janet: Use without attribution is definitely icky. I think its ok if one limits oneself to facts in the public domain. Example: this months Natl Geographic has an article on some island off the coast of Chile with big caves. The "public domain" part of the article could be the name of the island, the location of the island, and 1 or 2 sentences on physiography: "Has limestone, lots of rains, big caves." Anything more than that, in my opinion, better have a link back to Natl Geog.

Larry: Maybe a disclaimer on the front page, and a tiny disclaimer link on each topic page served up. At some point, some knucklehead is going to serve wikipedia with a copyright violation notice. A disclaimer might make it easier to remove offending pages without any further consequences. (Let's not talk about possible patent violations... )

One further note about encouraging outside links: it will probably encourage spam. I would just love to write up a bunch of the stuff I do professionally, then link it back to my web site!


Hope this helps. DMD


First, plagarism and copyright violation are covered elsewhere, so for the sake of discussion, let's assume those issues aren't involved.

I don't think Wikipedia articles need a lot of formal citation. An encyclopedia article, in general, presents common knowledge within a field that could lead to dozens of citations. I don't particularly feel the need to mention that I perused several books or web sites to verify that sort of thing. Perhaps the urge for formal citation comes from the academic backgrounds of many of the contributors, where the meritocracy of intellectual credit is more strongly felt than in most other areas, and is highly formalized?

If a topic within an article is obscure, controversial, or just wants emphasizing, the wiki format encourages an informal citation style ("Professor Smith, in his definitive Opus 497, indicated that blah blah ...").

An encyclopedia article usually cannot have the breadth or depth of a book or focused research effort, (although Wikipedia and similar projects may change that view), so a "Suggested Reading" or "For Additional Information" reference section may be very appropriate.

To summarize, my feeling is that citations are only appropriate where the sense of the content can be clearly attributed to a particular work, but otherwise should not be a big deal -- with many editors reviewing articles, needed citations will likely appear later if not in the original article.

Just my rambling opinion.... --loh (2001-07-05)


Sources are good for traking serious scholarship, research, history, etc. But a large number of articles here aren't that; they are simple explanations of things the reader might be unfamiliar with, but about which we know something. I think "usefulness" is the most important criterion here, rather than rigorous scholarship. What is a useful "source" to cite for a article containing one paragraph explaining that Robert Heinlein is a science fiction author and listing his stories? An article about any subject should certainly point out important works on that subject, whether or not those were the sources of the information in the article. Typically any expert's knowledge of a subject will come from dozens of sources, many of which are very good in general and many of which are too specific to be of any use to newcomers, and much of it even the expert may not remember where it came from. If I'm writing about poker strategy, it would be unthinkable not to include some mention of David Sklanky's Theory of Poker and Mike Caro's Book of Tells; but if I happen to use an example from a game I played last week, will I even remember that something obscure like that Ray Zee's Seven Card Stud High-Low for Advanced Players had a chapter on the theory behind that particular play with a similar example? If I did remember, is it useful for ordinary readers to know that if that book is otherwise not that useful to them? --LDC