Last week, as many if not most of you know, a number of news outlets reported that Irish student Shane Fitzgerald had made up quotations, attributing them to French composer Maurice Jarre upon his death and publishing them on Wikipedia. While the Wikipedia community removed the false quotations rather quickly, given the lack of grounded citation, several prominent newspapers included at least one of these creative quotations in obituaries of Jarre.
While I found the story interesting, in the large scheme of things, and given the innocuousness of the attributed quotation, the story should have been but a small blip on my radar. In my larger scholarly and pedagogical community, however, this was rather monumental news for many people to the degree that Wikipedia has become something of a boogeyman in the rather predictable conversations about the laziness of “today’s generation of students.” In effect, Wikipedia has become the whipping post that teachers turn to each time they begin another round of cursing the laziness of students.
Indeed, this is true to such a degree that one often finds syllabi with pseudolegalize, warning students away from utilizing Wikipedia as a source. Instead, the syllabi reminds the student, research must carefully be tied to properly vetted sources (e.g., peer reviewed journals, or, in the case of contemporary events, national newspapers). University libraries run seminar after seminar, explaining to first year students that they must learn to differentiate between legitimate and nonlegitimate sources for their research. In short, the most positive thing one will ever found said of Wikipedia is that it might, on occasion, given other sources, be used for deep background information.
Hence, the affaire de Jarre was the cause of some level of minihysteria in informal conversation and online discussions amongst teachers who yet again pointed to Wikipedia as the example par excellence of the downfall of standards in student research and writing. In conversation after conversation, numerous teachers noted that this was surely the sign—if we needed another—that students should never turn to Wikipedia as a legitimate source in their research. If only “we” could get students to do real research, skipping Wikipedia, we would be on solid grounds.