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Does Wikipedia Suck on Science Stories?

CowboyNeal posted more than 7 years ago | from the knowing-your-audience dept.

The Internet 400

An anonymous reader writes "An editor from Wired writes on his blog that Wikipedia sucks for science stories — not because they are inaccurate, but because of what he calls the 'tragedy of the uncommon': Too many experts writing about subjects in ways that no non-expert can understand. Would this be the dumbing-down of Wikipedia — or would it be a better resource for everyone?"

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The more accurate the better (4, Insightful)

zoomshorts (137587) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096407)

Quality of knowledge is important. Readability is second.

Re:The more accurate the better (3, Insightful)

MarkByers (770551) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096439)

Exactly. If you want a 'Beginners Guide to Physics' go to the children's library. Wikipedia is something that the authors of the beginners guide can use to make sure that their facts are right (but unfortunately too few of them do this).

Re:The more accurate the better (4, Insightful)

smallfries (601545) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096865)

No, I'm afraid to say you're completely wrong.

Wiki is meant to be authoritive - that means all the way from a beginner's entry to the subject to the accurate detailed facts about the topic. This thread is a false dichotomy. Wiki should not have to lean towards one extreme or the other - the only reason to do so is because of lack of space. Remember "wiki is not paper" [wikimedia.org] .

Re:The more accurate the better (1)

sumdumass (711423) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096965)

Well given the quality of contribution like ones from the acclaimed tenured professor living in mom's basement in KY who is so good at what he does nobody notices him enough at the university hundred of miles away to ever had heard his name, I'm not sure it is even worth fact checking unless it is being used as a second opinion for an over and more complete understanding.

Sarcasm aside, Are you suggesting that Wiki which was billed as on online encyclopedia should only benefit scientist in the field or people writing books? Encyclopedias typically as designed for the person who doesn't know anything were technical papers are designed for scientist working in the field. I'm ok with doing this, just let me make sure I note it so I won't donate any money or time again. It just seems like a breach of trust to find out all those monetary donations I made were so scientist and book authors could have a special repository of papers instead of an encyclopedia everyone could benefit from. I don't see why there cannot be both, A highly scientific page and a dumbed down page for student and others looking to find out more about something. Links could place the two together and maybe some short words to explain the differences meaningful way to not confuse anyone.

While it won't replace tradition text books and schooling, it could lead people into a greater understanding of differing aspect of their life as well as encourage them to seek a higher education in the area. I am sorry some people feel as if this is a special club and only certain members should benefit from it. OTOH I'm especially please it is being brought out in the open so I don't mistake it for something I can benefit from too.

Re:The more accurate the better (3, Insightful)

Eudial (590661) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096475)

Quality of knowledge is important. Readability is second.


Agreed.

Personally, I think that using wikipedia as a tool of learning a subject is unfair to you, the one doing the learning: You're doing yourself a big malfavor in not buying a proper book, or attending a class in the subject. Wikipedia should not be a cheap substitute for a proper education.

Re:The more accurate the better (2, Insightful)

MolarMass (808031) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096517)

While I definitely agree that the quality of knowledge is the most important aspect, I think that readability is nearly just as important.

General understanding of science suffers because it is not accessible (meaning understandable) by the layperson. This is not always because topics require a great deal of background knowledge to understand, but because it is explained poorly or in ways that only somebody familiar with a topic will be able to easily follow.

What use is knowledge if people who will benefit the most cannot understand it? I do not believe in "dumbing down" anything, but sometimes different levels of explanation are necessary, and this is something that wikipedia lacks for most science entries.

Re:The more accurate the better (0, Redundant)

ShieldW0lf (601553) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096725)

Readability is of absolute importance. If it's not readable, it's not writing, it's just scratches.

But these examples weren't hard to read. They just demanded that the user have the interest to read them. You'd have to be an ignoramus not to be able to read those examples.

It sounds to me like a professional writer complaining about the threat to his livelihood, or that someone didn't do his article on epigenetics for him.

Disagree (5, Insightful)

Relic of the Future (118669) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096551)

Disagree strongly.

I'm an idiot about music theory, so I figured Wikipedia would be a good place to start. But there are so many show-offs trying to one-up each other by trying to sound overly academic, that it took me hours, and way to much cross-referencing, to get a good handle on the subject.

It's an ENCYCLOPEDIA, it's meant to get you started; if you want detailed knowledge, you should go to a detailed source. I'm shocked and insulted that the first 3 replies to your post said, more or less, "if you need something simpler, buy a kids book". What ever happened to "all the knowledge of the world"? Whatever happend to "an educational resource"? And they've been doubly stupid since it's not like Wikipedia is running out of room; we can have the extra-technical information if someone wants it--on a seperate page, or futher down on the page--but the top of the article should describe, in a simple way, what it's about, in a way that anyone who's graduated from elementary school, with no expert knowledge on the subject, should be able to understand it.

Readability first. Details second.

Then edit it (1, Insightful)

Toe, The (545098) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096645)

You are right about how Wikipedia articles should be constructed; and the general consensus of Wikipedians is the same.

So... if you find something wrong... FIX IT. That's the point of Wikipedia.

And, yes, you certainly can fix articles you are unfamiliar with. It takes a little work and a little reading of the conveniently-provided external links, but it is really not difficult at all to learn enough about any subject to be able to provide a 1-2 sentence description of what it is. I do it all the time. I've even written whole stub articles about subjects I didn't even know existed. (And they seem to be written correctly, as future editors have left most of my verbiage in place.)

Re:Disagree (1)

MythMoth (73648) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096665)

Ok. Fair point, reasonable argument.

Wikipedia is publically editable. What did you do to fix the problem?

Re:Disagree (2, Insightful)

DevStar (943486) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096709)

The point of an encyclopedia is to get experts to write accessible entries for the lay person. It's no so that someone who just learned quantum physics could change the entry on it to something they understand (which would probably be wrong).

Re:Disagree (1, Informative)

Kagura (843695) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096711)

Have you ever seen this [wikipedia.org] ?

Make it readable (5, Insightful)

wurp (51446) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096781)

I have a BS in Mathematics, and quite frankly most of the time I find Wikipedia useless as a reference for Mathematics. This is because I don't understand/remember the terminology they're using! Let me repeat that: I have a BS in Math, and Wikipedia's math terminology is beyond me. (I should point out that I got my degree over a dozen years ago, though.)

As an example, I just looked up the Wikipedia entry on Group Theory [wikipedia.org] . The first paragraph is comprehensible, but virtually information-free. The second paragraph uses technical terms that I would have to look up for them to mean enough to be informative.

From there on out it looks to me as if everything would only mean anything at all to someone who already has a very good handle on just what Group Theory is.

Now, if you skip down to the definition of a group, that's what I remember from my graduate Algebra course and it is more or less readable. Why the hell couldn't that be up top? Moreover, why couldn't the main article for Group Theory essentially be a non-technical rendition of that definition, along with some non-technical examples of where Group Theory is used?

There could be a second Wikipidia article, maybe "Group Theory, Advanced" that reads more like the current main article does.

I've seen some people pointing out that Wikipedia would have to offer some misinformation to be more readable, and that's sufficient reason to not be readable. That's horse crap. Suppose it turns out physics is too complicated for humans to understand accurately without two decades of study. Should we then not teach anyone newtonian gravity, because to avoid misinformation everyone needs to get two or three PhDs to understand it completely?

Read Feynmann's Lectures on Physics. He states up front that he's going to lie to the students a little, so he can present to them some useful tools for solving problems before he complicates it. His audience is physics students at MIT. If Feynmann can simplify things so MIT physics students can get started, Wikipedia can simplify things for their audience of random idiots on the web.

Re:Disagree (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19096845)

Some technical concepts simply can't be described in one paragraph to an elementary school graduate, for example Abelian category [wikipedia.org] . The problem is people like you and the blogger who assume that it's only a writing issue.

Re:Disagree (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19096855)

The music theory articles are well put together and easily readable by anyone willing to spend the time. Writing at a 12th grade reading level is perfectly normal for a reference book, or in this case, reference website. Wikipedia doesn't exist to take the place of science / art / history for 5th graders. Readability is good, required even, but not at the expense of being able to tackle complicated subjects.

Re:Disagree (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19096875)

music theory is something you grow into, nothing you can read and understand in a day from zero knowledge state

dumbing down wikipedia won't help with that, as this would remove music theory completely - there is no easy music theory at all!

as others said - if you need to start, look for beginners guide's, not for average knowledge resources (i never saw a wiki article i didnt understand, no matter what it was about - so this all is just FUD!)

Re:Disagree (1)

rsw (70577) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096885)

"All the knowledge in the world" != "readability first."

Wikipedia contained all the information you wanted, just not in a format that you liked because it required you to learn lots of things.

Guess what? There's a lot to music theory. If you want a dumbed-down version of it, YES, go get a dumbed down book. Wikipedia's purpose is to contain _all_the_knowledge_, not "happy eddie's music primer."

I'm sorry that your education required so much damned learning.

-=rsw

Plain English version of wikipedia (1)

CyberZCat (821635) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096971)

I disagree, I think Wikipedia articles should use the most concise terminology for the relevant subject areas. If you don't know a word, just look it up! I used to read Wikipedia articles all the time with words I didn't know, since I've started looking them up when I see words I don't know, my vocabulary has expanded dramatically and consequently not only do I have to look up fewer words, but I find that those words end up being useful in real life more then I had realized. By only subjecting yourself to explanations in simple terms you deny yourself a superior comprehension of the subject matter.

If you want things explained in more general terms then you should visit the Simplified Wikipedia: http://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page [wikipedia.org]

Re:Disagree (1)

mstroeck (411799) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096987)

If you expect to get a "good handle" on a topic like music theory in less than a few hours of study, you are clearly delusional. Science won't get any easier just because our attention spans are getting shorter.

Re:Disagree (1)

Ikcor (676683) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096991)

I read the page on Music Theory [wikipedia.org] and it's about as basic as you can get. I'm not trying to be insulting, but to get more simple you really do need to get a kid's book on music. If anything, this particular page needs more information, like a section on counter point (Yes, I know I can add one).

Re:The more accurate the better (3, Insightful)

Kamots (321174) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096571)

mm... readability is important too, however, readability isn't what the author really seems to be attacking...

A lot of the article's complaints are focused around wikipedia providing you the technical terms that are *necessary* for you to know if you wish to explore something in-depth. Basically they're focused around wikipedia working at providing more than simply a very high level overview of something.

Yes, if you want that cursory ten thousand foot overview I can see it being somewhat intimidating; however, usually when technical term is mentioned there's a link to the appropriate wikipedia page, so if you don't know what that means you can go find out.

The reason that I love wikipedia is that I can start by looking for general information, then drill down to the level of detail that I want. If wikipedia doesn't have all the info I need, then I at least go away knowing what the technical terminology is, and can use that to hit up other sources. If we followed the recommendations of the opinion writer, wikipedia would, at least to me, lose a large portion of it's worth.

Re:The more accurate the better (1)

kimvette (919543) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096575)

Not exactly; if one person knows the subject, what the hell is the point of writing about it in a publicly-accessible encyclopedia if no one else can understand the subject matter?

It does not require dumbing down the articles, but defining terms, linking to glossaries or peripheral articles, or maybe including an incomplete summary section expressed in laymen's terms. Those who are more interested in learning more details will read the entire article, refer to the glossary as necessary, and follow up by reading ancillary supporting documents, which are usually linked to at the bottom of the page with footnote and related article sections.

Yes, the more accurate the better, but that is not mutually exclusive with meeting your audience at their level.

Re:The more accurate the better (1)

MolarMass (808031) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096609)

This is kind of where I'm coming from. No dumbing down, but there should be different levels of explanation, and people should have the option of digging deeper.

The point of an encyclopedia is to give you a starting point, but many want you to have already started by the time you get there.

All the world's info, or the world's info for all? (4, Interesting)

Zadaz (950521) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096619)

When I was about 8 my family bought a complete set of World Book encyclopedias. And sure it didn't cover everything, and nothing after 1978, it did offer good basic information that an 8-year old could read and a 50-year old could appreciate.

Fast forward a few decades. The other day I went to wikipedia looking for some basic information on my new dental crown [wikipedia.org] . While I did (eventually) find the information I was looking for, it's full of sentiences like:

"The alloy used for PFMs is of a different variety for those used for FGCs. "

"Because the sprue former stuck out a little bit from the investment material, there is a communication between the outside and the investment pattern."

"When using a shoulder preparation, the dentist is urged to add a bevel; the shoulder-bevel margin serves to effectively decrease the tooth-to-restoration distance upon final cementation of the restoration."

I'm not a moron, I can do the additional research and figure out what all of the words mean in this context, but damn, I wish I had my old World Book encyclopedias.

Re:The more accurate the better (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19096675)

Third, watch out for the censorship.

Re:The more accurate the better (5, Insightful)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096853)

Readability isn't opposed to quality. Actually, WP has a policy that all articles are supposed to be written for the general reader. It's just that the policy is often ignored when it comes to science articles. Some of my favorite horror stories:
  1. Kepler's laws [wikipedia.org] ... highly mathematical, and includes a ton of irrelevant mathematics (e.g., analytic geometry equations that belong in the conic sections article); the math is way too heavy, and starts way too soon
  2. photon [wikipedia.org] ... completely unintelligible to the general reader, and makes the mathematics even less intelligible by defining lots of unnecessary notation, and presenting various equations in more than one notation
  3. special relativity [wikipedia.org] ... violates WP policies by splitting off the nontechnical stuff into a separate article
Of course, people will tell me that if I thought there was a problem with these three articles, I should fix them. Actually, I tried in all three cases. (And in #3, if you look on the talk page, people have been commenting for years that it was inappropriate to split the article.) Also, note that in all three cases, the articles include external links to web pages that do a better job of explaining the topic for the general reader, so it's not just that these topics are inherently impossible to explain simply. (Special relativity, despite its reputation for being a difficult subject, can actually be developed with nothing more than simple algebra. In fact, Einstein wrote a popular-level treatment that did exactly that.) The problem is that most science geeks are not good at explaining science to nonscientists. I do it for a living (I teach physics at a community college), and it's hard. A lot of the people working on these articles appear to be young grad students who have no experience teaching the subject, and just haven't learned to communicate with people who don't have the same background.

Re:The more accurate the better (2, Interesting)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096909)

You're right.

I'm about to finish my PhD in an interesting program. Technically I'm part of the Electrical Engineering department but I'm also in the Biomedical Engineering program. Most of the EE students sit at the university and talk to the four other EE students and professors who understand what they're doing. Naturally sitting through their talks is an exercise in futile frustration.

On the other hand, the biomed students find themselves forced to talk to all kinds of people from radically different backgrounds. Their talks are noticeably better, especially for general audiences, but also for specialized ones.

I think we need to revive the tradition of public lectures and make EVERYONE give them.

No. (4, Insightful)

VirusEqualsVeryYes (981719) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096871)

You couldn't be more wrong.

Remember: what's the purpose of Wikipedia? Is it a simple repository of articles intending to include every esoteric detail known to the sub-sub-subfield? No, it's an encyclopedia. Encyclopedias are not a compilation of research papers, they're a compilation of summaries. Summaries, by definition, do not include everything. The quality and completeness of knowledge are worthless if they can't be spread to others. Science does not advance because of discoveries, science advances because of the spread of those discoveries.

Wikipedia can provide the best of both worlds. It itself is a compilation of summaries, providing basic understanding, but to those who want or need more, there are links at the bottom to more detailed explanations, more thorough information. A Wikipedia with every detail possible would turn away people who want to understand something new simply because of the ridiculous principle that if one is to learn something, one must (futilely) attempt to learn everything at once. Imagine, for example, if someone went to Wikipedia to learn about the immune system, and came upon this:

Antigen (peptide) is presented by MHC class II on an APC to a CD4 TH cell with a TCR that recognizes a particular MHC classII/peptide complex. The TH cell is stimulated to undergo clonal expansion. If it encounters a B cell with the same class II/MHC peptide complex on its surface, it stimulates that B cell to clonally expand and produce soluble antibody...
[taken from my bio class notes]

Yeah, it's informative. Great. But who wants to try to understand that if all they want is a basic understanding? Having an article written this way will turn away people who would otherwise learn something. That defeats the purpose of the encyclopedia. That defeats the purpose of Wikipedia.

Leave your elitist "learn everything or you're inadequate" shit at your graduate research lab. Not everyone is willing, or has the time, to wade through what is otherwise white noise to get to the relevant info. Forcing mundane details down the throats of interested parties is doing a disservice to the spread of science.

i don't agree with that editor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19096911)

hey hey hey....... that editor is simple making some crap, for publicity sake i guess........ as far as i'm concerned, wikipedia.org content is really good and i use it a lot to understand crap that we get in our engineering books........ it acts to provide the very basic elemental facts and empowers me with a solid foundation of the subject .......... i'm not a g8t student either.

Re:The more accurate the better (1)

catwh0re (540371) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096953)

Everything seems difficult until you know how to do it.
Science and physics are no exception, so if you can't understand it, then read the basis of the article, usually indicated somewhere in the wikipedia article due to it's ample sub-linking and reference points.

P.S There will always be someone who doesn't get it, and such to lower the standard to. Don't try to please everyone, as complicated physics is simply not for everyone. Definitely not for the Paris Hilton types of the world.

Re:The more accurate the better (1)

osu-neko (2604) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096955)

Agreed. Now explain to be the logic of your point. Are you invoking the false dilemma logical fallacy, or is there are reason you believe you can't have both?

Re:The more accurate the better (2, Insightful)

BufferArea (794172) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096995)

When you present knowledge in a readable form, the quality of the knowledge is intrinsically tied to its readability. The point of putting knowledge in a written form(or presenting it in any form to another person) is to communicate ideas. If its not readable its pointless. That being said, it is not that these wikipedia articles are unreadable, just that these particular ones are unreadable by the intended audience. The intended audience is not versed in theory and terminology, those that are already either a)know the material well enough to not need to refer to wikipedia or b) already have much better references. It the article wants to gradually introduce the terms and concepts or break the entry up in such a way that novices and experts could refer to different sections, that would be fine. Unfortunately, many people like to show off their knowledge and don't really care about expanding other's people knowledge. Quite often, these are the same ones yelling at people to RTFM when those people ask questions. In these cases though, how are people supposed to RTFM?!

Well ... (0, Offtopic)

iknowcss (937215) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096425)

Just as long as they make it simple enough for me to do my scientific school research on it. Wikipedia is the best and most reliable site for that kind of stuff!

Re:Well ... (0, Offtopic)

slothman32 (629113) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096791)

With respect to your sig:When you stare into the Goatse, the Goatse stares back into you.
Now I have a horrible picture of him actually right next ot me rather than just on my screen.

wow (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19096447)

Another thing i can honestly say i got in trouble for using as school. This is no joke. i got suspended for 2 months for going there.

Well it seems to me... (2, Informative)

alexultima (850430) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096467)

...that it is not too hard to understand the current Wikipedia articles. But I'm sort of science minded.

However, we could do with putting it into simple terms, for those not science-minded. Then, we could have a section in Wikipedia of each article making sense to science minds.

Re:Well it seems to me... (1)

MollyB (162595) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096743)

I'm "science-minded" but lack the formal mathematical language commonly understood by educated scientists. As an analogy, I play guitar but could never sight-read a page of musical score. Wikipedia is very nice to we Timothy Ferris, Brian Greene, Steven Pinker, Leonard Susskind, etc.-educated amateurs by making every new sub-concept also a link to a gloss on that reference. This is a plodding way to learn astrophysics or molecular biology, admittedly, but is very handy to "brush up" for those of us unable to hold in our heads an edifice of thought that spans three or eight disciplines like we used to (/exaggeration).

I very much agree that there should be a way for the most arcane technical discussion (a tab or button, perhaps?) to be easily accessed by professionals and very learned folks without sacrificing the flow of the basic entry.

by the very nature of the media (4, Insightful)

superwiz (655733) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096497)

Because it is wiki, any initial story that is written in too esoteric terms can be further edited by people less in the know and more able to eloquently explain. So by the very nature of the media is better than either peer-reviewed or popular scientific literature in terms of how well the content gets distributed. How well the inaccuracies get caught is a whole different ball game.

Re:by the very nature of the media (1)

malsdavis (542216) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096631)

But what does that have to do with the problem highlighted by the article?

It seems to be more based around the common issue of reader competence and the fact that different many unrelated editors inevitably produce articles which are not coherent in this way. The problem remains that the only way Wikipedia articles can become suitable for a range of readership levels (as the editors inevitably write for) is to make the articles large and bloated.

As the article states, there is no way this problem can be directly overcome while Wikipedia remains in its current form.

Re:by the very nature of the media (1)

Relic of the Future (118669) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096661)

Sure it can be fixed; it's real simple, too:

New policy: the first paragraph of every article should be written so a 14 year old could understand it. The rest? Do what you want.

eloquently explain their own misconceptions (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096729)

Because it is wiki, any initial story that is written in too esoteric terms can be further edited by people less in the know and more able to eloquently explain their own misconceptions.
Fixed. I imagine that some science articles will vacillate between an inaccurate state and an esoteric state.

Re:by the very nature of the media (1)

Frosty Piss (770223) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096989)

Because it is wiki, any initial story that is written in too esoteric terms can be further edited by people less in the know and more able to eloquently explain.

Sure, someone else can come along and edit / revise an article for better readability. But it's actually not true in a practical sense that "anyone" can edit, because more often than not the Editor Nazi that has decided that he / she / it "owns" the article will simply revert the edit and make some pithy and slightly insulting comment about "discussion" on the Talk Page. And it will be "discussed" to death, until the Editor Nazi gets his / her / its way.

That's what wikilinks are for (4, Interesting)

Toe, The (545098) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096499)

In a well-written Wikipedia article, the big words are wikilinked. When one doesn't understand something, one clicks the links for further understanding.

This has always been the promise of hypertext, but it is only fully realized in Wikipedia. I couldn't agree less with the premise that Wikipedia is unaccessible.

Additionally, as the article notes, there is also Simple English Wikipedia.
http://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/ [wikipedia.org]
It doesn't have 1.7 million articles, but... of course not. There aren't that many concepts in "simple English."

Re:That's what wikilinks are for (1)

DiamondGeezer (872237) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096719)

From the Simple Wikipedia:

Ocean

Ocean refers to the watery area between continents. Oceans are very big and they connect smaller seas together. It is okay to speak of the ocean as a single body of water because all named "oceans" are connected. Oceans are made of salt water. There are five main oceans. They are all huge.


Re:That's what wikilinks are for (2, Funny)

Timesprout (579035) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096787)

Oceans are dolphins houses you big silly goose.

There are limits to simplification (4, Insightful)

digitalderbs (718388) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096505)

Dick Feynman's position, for example, is that you can't learn modern physics without the math. Analogies can only go so far, and there's a reason a person requires a PhD to understand some subjects.

Is wikipedia really only source for the lay person? I never thought so.

Re:There are limits to simplification (1)

mce (509) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096671)

One does not require a PhD to understand things, one obtains a PhD by understanding and (ideally but bot necessarily) advancing them.

Any PhD worth his or her salt will admit that the PhD itself is just a piece of paper.

Re:There are limits to simplification (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19096731)

Well, physics uses a lot of maths. But some maths is gratuitously obfuscated - people invent really lame notations. Coming from an engineering background, almost ALL the difficulty I had with quantum theory was notational. Turns out it's mostly just linear algebra, but with godawful notation (except in rare cases of sanity, usually when a compsci or mechanical engineer has gotten into the field).

For programmers, it's like comparing lisp (easy, uniform, clear) and C++ (BARF!) code that does the same thing. Now, some people honestly do find C++
code easier to read. They claim. But I will never, ever be able to agree with them. And the problem is much worse in physics - often really quite simple maths is dressed up with syntax from hell that some jerk still working with pen+paper thought was a good idea.

Re:There are limits to simplification (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19096839)

Feynman also said, (about Fermi-Dirac statistics, but presumably he thought this in general) "I couldn't reduce it to the freshman level. That means we really don't understand it."

Re:There are limits to simplification (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096881)

but the thing is Feynman came up with so many very good ways even non-physicists could get a handle on processes without math - e.g. Feynman diagrams and some other analogies. To *deeply* understand modern physics one needs the math but the very powerful underlying concepts actually don't. A two-slit experiment with the right instructor can go a long way to understanding probability density functions, for example. Or an aluminum wire with oxide coating to demonstrate quantum tunneling, in the right hands. Feynman was a master at it.

Re:There are limits to simplification (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096961)

SOMETIMES you need the math, and only if you want a really deep understanding.

Feynman himself was one of the masters of explaining complicated concepts in more accessible terms. That's the mark of someone who really understands a subject. Einstein was another. When I was a kid my father told me to go read Einstein's little blue book on relativity. I figured he was nuts -- relativity was supposed to be hard to understand, and surely EINSTEIN's book would be the most complicated of all. It isn't. It's a tiny little thin book written by someone who REALLY understands the material.

*sigh* (4, Insightful)

pytheron (443963) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096509)

rather than dumbing down articles, accept that:-

1. There are going to be things beyond your ability to understand.

2. Certain things require learning and research to understand

Wikipedia is just a reference point. If you don't understand the reference, follow it up !! Research !

Science is hard? (4, Interesting)

tomstdenis (446163) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096511)

You have to use the "big words" [re: ideas, terms, vocabulary beyond a 6th grade level] to be practical. I mean try explaining something like the makeup of the ATP cycle using words an 11 year old would know. Try explaining calculus with rudimentary algebra [e.g. basic linear systems], etc.

I don't think it would be useful to severely dumb down all of the articles. Maybe they just need more "see also" or reading guides?

Tom

Re:Science is hard? (1)

Timesprout (579035) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096657)

You have to use the "big words" [re: ideas, terms, vocabulary beyond a 6th grade level] to be practical.
No if you can't explain the concept in relatively simple terms, for example the rechargeable battery metaphor for the ATP Cycle, then you probably dont understand it as well as you think yourself.

Re:Science is hard? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19096841)

You have to use the "big words" [re: ideas, terms, vocabulary beyond a 6th grade level] to be practical.

That's partially true, but there's a difference between an article that is unclear to the point that you need to be well educated to understand what it says, and an article that is unclear to the point that you need to already know what it's talking about to understand it says. The author is complaining about the latter.

The epigenetics article is a good example. Editors have given it a lot of work since it became the subject of attention. Compare the before [wikipedia.org] with the after [wikipedia.org] . Notice how the improvement is much more accessible without compromising precision.

You can't be all things to all people (1)

BayaWeaver (1048744) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096529)

Any one particular contributor won't be able to write in a style that experts will approve of and yet be completely comprehensible to non-experts. And vice versa. But anyone who thinks that an article is too technical is welcomed to contribute a dumbed-down section. That's the great thing about Wiki. If anyone thinks an article can be improved in terms in readability (or accuracy ), he can just go ahead and do it. There's nothing to stop him.

The term encyclopaedia (2, Insightful)

Flying pig (925874) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096533)

Literally means, I believe "surrounding children", meaning that it is supposed to represent a body of knowledge that can be used to give children an all-round education. Correct me if I am wrong on that.

The problem with Wikipedia and science seems to go deeper than that it is too technical (not pedantic as the writer suggests, but too technical.) I have come across several articles where the commonest meaning of the term under discussion is not even mentioned because the author thinks that a term from his (I am betting it is almost invariably a his, that isn't a failure to be inclusive) discipline is the only or original meaning of that term. That's because it is nowadays so easy to get a degree in science without any kind of general education. It is that production of overly narrowly focussed graduates that I think is the problem for Wikipedia.

Advertising my own university, Cambridge still insists on a fairly general foundation science course. This does not seem to disadvantage its graduates. Unfortunately corporatism doesn't want good generalists because they might threaten the scientifically ignorant business graduates that run companies. They want Taylorised science and engineering graduates who fit into a neat little hole. The outcome is sufficiently obvious, and the results can be seen in Wikipedia.

Re:The term encyclopaedia (4, Informative)

Toe, The (545098) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096599)

Once again, Wikipedia comes through.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Encyclopedia [wikipedia.org]

The word encyclopedia comes from the Classical Greek "(munged)" (pronounced "enkyklia paideia"), literally, a "[well-]rounded education," meaning "a general knowledge." Though the notion of a compendium of knowledge dates back thousands of years, the term was first used in 1541 in the title of a book by Joachimus Fortius Ringelbergius, Lucubrationes vel potius absolutissima kyklopaideia (Basel, 1541).

It is debatable if well-rounded means comprehensive or just general as opposed to specific.

Re:The term encyclopaedia (1)

slothman32 (629113) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096737)

Don't quote me but I would guess that well-rounded means a liberal-arts set.
A small amount of everything even if most won't be useful.
Or at least that sounds good.

Re:The term encyclopaedia (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19096993)

So in otherwords, Flying Pig, you're even less accurate than wikipedia.

Dumbing Down (4, Insightful)

drooling-dog (189103) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096535)

Unfortunately, you usually can't "dumb-down" a subject without misleading people. You could, e.g., equate chemical bonding with atoms "holding hands" and such, but that doesn't do anyone any good. The advanced reader gets no useful information, and the naive ones don't get anything meaningful that they can build on, either.

People get turned on to science when they realize they understand something for the first time; I don't think that reducing everything to cartoon characters quite does the trick for anybody.

Re:Dumbing Down (1)

ookabooka (731013) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096759)

People get turned on to science when they realize they understand something for the first time; I don't think that reducing everything to cartoon characters quite does the trick for anybody.

I don't think thats the point at all. I think there are certain things that need to be changed to make the wiki more accessible to everyone. Have you ever tried to look up something like "euler's totient" to see what it does or how to apply it? You are flooded with links to even more complex mathematical constructs and a barrage of proofs and derivations. I'm not a math major and all that is fairly irrelevant to me, I just want to know the basics. I think looking up math terms is the best way to find areas that really need to be "dumbed down" or at least have a section that gives a brief overview of the basics and its application(s).

Re:Dumbing Down (1)

Yokaze (70883) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096943)

> [...] You could, e.g., equate chemical bonding with atoms "holding hands" and such, but that doesn't do anyone any good. The advanced reader gets no useful information, and the naive ones don't get anything meaningful that they can build on, either.

On the contrary. The whole education is based on dumbing down. You could start with "holding hands", if it is approriate, but usually one starts with negative electron planets in orbits around a positive atomic core. The latter is only a little bit more sophisticated lie. I don't believe, you consider starting chemistry with QED as a sensible idea. You have to start with a graspable concept, and then build upon it.

Strong point of Wikipedia (1)

snerfu (43580) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096539)

If we only endeavor to seek a minimal grasp of a subject, Wikipedia would be failing us. There are a lot of things that I don't already know when reading a science subject on that site, but thats where all those little helpful links in the article come in handy. It takes you around to the other articles that explain the things you don't already understand. Then the next time you read an article with similar supporting evidence you can skip over the links you already covered. I see the author at Wired maybe not really gasping the idea of why people should use wiki's.

Why should it be one of the other? (1)

anti_analog (305106) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096541)

It seems to me that with either a hierarchical approach (either within the contents of one article, or in separate articles addressing terms and specific issues in more detail), one could construct articles where it's easy for a layman to read the outline and the basics of the information as well as for the obsessive nerds to delve into the depths of all the detailed terms and eccentricities related to a given subject.
I've been reading a lot about meteorology lately on wikipedia, and it seems that lots of the articles about things people might hear mentioned on television weather are written with at least introductions in simple terms. However, I can dig deeper and find out about the dynamics of convective vs. orographic precipitation if I want to.
Anyway, it seems to be that in such instances we should always be striving for an organized and cohesive presentation of all available information, and that having things presented in a way in which the reader encounters as much detail and complexity as they chose. And furthermore it seems that hierarchically branched structure using links and sub articles and so on and so forth, which is so much easier in Wiki format than it was in print, really allows us much greater possibilities for organizing our information for the best possible experience for the reader.
So choosing detail or easy to read average joe type articles exclusively seems incredibly lame.

Eh... where? (2, Interesting)

tulcod (1056476) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096547)

Seriously, what's so hard about these articles? The power of wikipedia is in its linking system, when you don't understand a phrase or subject, just click it, or if no link is there, search for it, and you'll learn all about it. I read and understood these articles perfectly, while i only had a little bit of theory about DNA and microbiology. What's so hard about them? What can't be understood? Yes, you have to take your time to read them, to understand what they're saying. That's wyh we call it Rtfm. Read it, not look at it (also, ltfm would sound bad :p). Ok, i can't tell you everything they said in the article right now, but that's because i'm too lazy to remember everything. If you don't understand these articles, you don't need to know what's in them.

Accessibility (1)

Shifty Jim (862102) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096549)

While having highly detailed and in-depth articles about obscure science subjects is all good and well, if your goal is to be the most comprehensive and usable encyclopedia on the planet for anyone and everyone, accessibility should be your most important goal.

While some articles aren't going to be able to help being a little too arcane for the average reader, I think there are some examples that Wikipedia could do to emulate. A prime example would be A Brief History of Time [wikipedia.org] by Stephen Hawking.

Wired? (4, Insightful)

misleb (129952) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096553)

Oh my god. You know Wikipedia must be bad if an editor from Wired, of all the trashy pop-sci magazines, is complaining. What's next? An editor from People Magazine complaining Wikipedia sucks for objective information about celebrities?

-matthew

Not just wikipedia problem (3, Informative)

Hypharse (633766) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096559)

This is a problem across all academics, not just wikipedia. I write research papers and I get criticized by those above me if they don't "sound" sufficiently intelligent. They won't say it publicly, but privately they will readily admit that the more confusion you add to the paper by using big words and clumping them together in obtuse ways will make the paper seem more professional. Also adding mathematical equations that a purposely very abstract and hard to understand are good, rather than bad. It drives me nuts personally, as I agree with the author of this article that the simpler something is to understand the better it is, especially when you are trying to TEACH someone that thing.

It is not just a science problem either. Look at literature where some of the literary works are written in such an obtuse way that people just consider them genius works because they can't understand them.

I have often thought of making it a lifelong goal to change this and simplify the way they teach many "difficult" subjects. However, the current way is way too ingrained into every part of academics that it would take a miracle to accomplish it.

Newsflash (1)

Relic of the Future (118669) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096705)

Wikipedia != academia

encyclopedia article != journal submission

People should keep that in mind when editing.

Re:Not just wikipedia problem (2, Insightful)

scapermoya (769847) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096789)

I don't know what kind of university you are at, but that certainly doesn't hold true at major science institution. You can't impress PhDs with 'abstract' and 'hard to understand' math, they don't believe in those descriptors.

Re:Not just wikipedia problem (1)

Hypharse (633766) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096935)

Many PhDs are not geniuses. Once you step outside their little realm of expertise they can often seem no more intelligent than a smart undergrad. It's the old adage that they know more and more about less and less. Often the paper you are writing is going to be judged (for various reasons) by someone who is not a professional in your own specific field. These are the people that my superiors are aiming to impress because it can be the difference between publication/patent disclosure/conference submission. It IS dumb that this is the way it is, having to impress someone who is not even inclined to understand what you are doing. That is one of the flaws in the current system.

Who looks up Epigenetics? (1)

Toe, The (545098) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096561)

The article claims that Wikipedia articles like the one on Epigenetics are not accessible to the layperson. But... what's going to cause someone to look that up? Wouldn't they already have some sort of context that leads them there?

By comparison, look at
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ant [wikipedia.org]

I find that extremely accessible while not being dumbed down in any way. It in an enormously informative article, and leads one to wonder and thirst for more. That sounds like an awesome teaching tool to me.

Re:Who looks up Epigenetics? (1)

MolarMass (808031) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096655)

I just looked at the epigenetics article, here [wikipedia.org] . If I didn't already know what epigenetics was, it would not be very useful. The entry seemed to be more of a "see what I know about epigenetics and how well I get it" project of the author(s) rather than a starting point for somebody unfamiliar with the topic.

Somebody would have a context for looking it up. But that context could be something as simple as seeing a reference in on a message board, or maybe it was mentioned in the news. The context might not be from a biology major's science class.

Re:Who looks up Epigenetics? (1)

Toe, The (545098) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096915)

For some things, you just can't explain the concept without assuming a certain level of understanding.

Do you know what an adequate pointclass is?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adequate_pointclass [wikipedia.org]
I don't, and the article doesn't help me understand it. That's because I don't have a Masters in mathematics. I would fully expect that if I studied math fort a couple of years, I would be able to understand what an adequate pointclass is by reading that stub article. But how could someone tell me what it is if I don't have that context? And why would they?

There are limits to how much one article can explain. Otherwise each article would begin with basic lessons on English and work up through the entirety of human understanding until they finally get to the subject at hand.

His blog is terrible... (1)

beyondkaoru (1008447) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096573)

If he cares so much about readability, how come he has that awful color scheme!?!?

dumb (4, Funny)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096591)

if thy want dumbed down science stories, I suggest they check out this [slashdot.org] site.

It's a Wired problem, not a Wikipedia problem (4, Informative)

Animats (122034) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096595)

Dumb Wired writers, expecting instant gratification. Wired used to have reporters who actually went out and covered real stuff. Then they laid off most of the reporters and kept the "editors". Now they're just wannabe pundits. Saves on travel expenses.

That Tired writer isn't coming across as someone who spent long days digging something out of library stacks or public records. Or travelling around asking people questions to find out what really happened, like a real reporter. This is a lightweight. If you want a children's encyclopedia, you can still get World Book [worldbook.com] .

Wikipedia has many problems, of course. Most of the good articles were in the first 500,000 created. What's coming in now is mostly junk - "State Route 92", "Star Wars Furry Adventure #6659", and similar crap. Wikia offers some hope for an amusing reason. Wikia took over Wookiepedia, the repository of Star Wars fancruft, which generates most of Wikia's traffic. They're monetizing the fan base. Over time, maybe all the popular culture stuff can be moved to Wikia. That would be a win.

I assume... (1)

denmarkw00t (892627) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096621)

one does not simply walk into a quantum physics lecture and understands what is being discussed. Surely though you could learn about all of the advanced terminology from the ground-up using Wikipedia, and then understanding the advanced articles should be no problem, right?

It's not just science... (1)

grikdog (697841) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096623)

Wikipedia's religion articles are also subject to zealous redactionizing by cliques of believers who credential each other and drive content into peculiar realms of fantasy. Oh, wait... That's Slashdot!

that's how hypertext is supposed to work. (1)

Falladir (1026636) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096629)

It's disingenuous for the commentator to strip the hyperlinks from the sections he quotes. I don't think it's at all inappropriate that the entry on mitochondrial DNA should assume that the reader knows what mitochondria are. By tucking extraneous background information away in linked pages, hypertext can be very concise.

Re:that's how hypertext is supposed to work. (1)

rob1980 (941751) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096783)

Exactly. He says he got lost at "continuum" while reading the the article on fluid mechanics [wikipedia.org] - but if he hadn't been too engaged in keeping his bitchfest rolling, he would have seen that continuum mechanics was linked and he could have read up on that as well.

Lay version (1)

nekozid (1100169) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096659)

A lot of the articles assume you know what you are looking up already and just want a refresher of the details. Not always the case though. Good example would be something like the doppler effect; perfectly simple to understand, but the wikipedia article might only talk about the math to get really spot on calculations of it, rather than what the doppler effect acctualy *is*.

No. (1)

Yath (6378) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096695)

No.

There are several problems with Goetz's analysis. First, (s)he underestimates the difficulty of making explanations both simple and correct. Secondly, Wikipedia varies on any metric you'd care to apply to it, and simple clarity is no different. There are a vast number of easy-to-read, simple articles on difficult subjects, and cherry-picking a few that bother you doesn't change that.

And finally, Wikipedia does such a vastly better job of explaining science than anyone else, that I suspect Goetz's expectations are unrealistic. I mean, if you suddenly decided that 500 mph bullet trains from New York to Los Angeles were essential, would that make the lack of them evidence of some sort of tragedy? Compare your expectations to the real world before complaining that you're not getting what you want! Just try to find a textbook on biology that's anywhere near as clear, direct, and correct as Wikipedia is on epigenetics.

If you're researching a subject.. (1)

cb_is_cool (1084665) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096699)

complex enough to have to be written in language that the layman can't understand, you probably aren't a layman yourself and will understand the information anyway.

scifi nerds (1)

kemo_by_the_kilo (971543) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096739)

well duh, sci fi nerds did most of the authoring... everyone wants to be the next biggest scifi writter.

Other way around (1)

scapermoya (769847) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096749)

Americans just suck at science. I'm an undergrad at what is considered to be one of the best science universities in the world, and many (not all) in the science majors aren't up to snuff. Science education in K-12 blows in America, so they can't succeed here, and it will eventually hurt us.

...back to finals....

Wikipedia articles are living documents... (1, Interesting)

Fidelis (789260) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096755)

As such, given time each article will get better, more accurate, current, and in depth.
Instead of nitpicking and bitching, contribute!

The danger is when the public or worse the policy makers _take actions_ based on inaccurate information from Wikipedia. But if/when this is about to happen the publicity will prompt the experts to step up and fix the article (hopefully).

I'm willing to bet, proportionally, you'll find more inaccuracies reported in NY Times, CNN, FOX or any other mass media outlets. This represents far more danger, for they actually influence public discussions and policies.

Wikipedia is fine, and it's working as intended.

Gradually make it more complex? (1)

Mazin07 (999269) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096779)

I think it would be reasonable for the intro paragraph to be simple, much like the comparisons that are given in the blog. I figure, people who want a simple explanation aren't going to read much anyways, so they can just read the first paragraph and leave. Then, people who want more detailed information can hit Page Down.

Title (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19096797)

Richard Feinman summed up this article rather nicely:

And the next Monday, when they were all back at work, all the kids were playing in the field and one kid said to me, 'See that bird? What kind of a bird is that?' And I said that I didn't have the slightest idea what kind of a bird that is. He said it's a brown-throated thrush or something. He says, your father doesn't tell you anything. But it was the opposite. My father had taught me, looking at a bird he says, do you know what that bird is? It's a brown-throated thrush. But in Portuguese it's a Bom da Peida, in Italian a Chutto Lapittida. He says in Chinese it's a Chung-Iong-tah, in Japanese a Katano Takeda, et cetera. He says, you know in all the languages that you wanna know what the name of that bird is, and when you're finished with that, he says, you'll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird. You'll only know about humans in different places and what they call the bird. Now, he says, let's look at the bird, and what it's doing.

We can make a good, useful record of knowledge without relying on specialized vocabulary. In fact, I'd venture to say we can't make a good, useful record of knowledge WHILE using specialized vocabulary.

Wikipedia is supposed to be an encyclopedia. That means a broad overview of topics, introductory material. It's wonderful to be able to provide more in-depth knowledge. However, you can do so without making the rest of the content inaccessible.

As for the guy above who discussed chemical bonds, your response was sarcastic and stupid. You should have been modded down. It's exceedingly disingenuous to say that an introduction to chemical bonds that a lay person or child could understand would require you to refer to the atoms as holding hands. It's just as easy to say that there are negatively-charged particles (called electrons) that orbit the core (called the nucleus) of the atom, that -- just like the planets' orbits -- some orbits are farther out than others, but -- unlike the planets around the sun -- the particles often orbit at the same distance, that we say that particles orbiting at the same distance are in the same "shell," that shells can hold different numbers of electrons based on their distance from the nucleus, that the shells fill up from innermost to outermost, and that when one atom's outermost shell has the same number of openings as the number of electrons in another atom's outermost shell, the two atoms can share those electrons and stick together.

The wiki government (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19096807)

People are subject to laws right now, and laws are written in very specific legalese. Nobody is complaining there, now are they? Ignorance is no excuse, right?

And just imagine how this is going to work when the wiki government takes hold. http://www.metagovernment.org/ [metagovernment.org] I think it's great that we're looking into the accessibility issue of wikis now, so that we CAN transition to a wiki government, where everyone can have input on the law.

Who knows? Maybe we'll find that people have to stop being so stupid.

Issac Asimov. (2, Funny)

ynososiduts (1064782) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096817)

I say we send one doctorate from every field to 40 Eridani A after it is discovered to be habitable. There they can edit The Great Wiki [wikipedia.org] . and fill it with all the information in every field in all it's technical glory. Then we would have the ultimate source of knowladge forever perserved incase there is all out nuclear war/anarchy/Christianity on Earth.

I don't understand his complaint. (1)

julesh (229690) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096843)

Lets start from the beginning: I'm not a biologist or a biochemist, so the article 'mitochondrion' that he complains about shouldn't be too easy for me. Looking at the version of the article he complains about [wikipedia.org] :

In cell biology, a mitochondrion (plural mitochondria) (from Greek or mitos, thread + or khondrion, granule) is a membrane-enclosed organelle, found in most eukaryotic cells.[1] Mitochondria are sometimes described as "cellular power plants," because they convert NADH and NADPH into energy in the form of ATP via the process of oxidative phosphorylation.


OK. So I don't know what an 'organelle' is, but it's helpfully hyperlinked to a page that explains it is to a cell what an organ is to a body (and then goes into a lot of detail that I hope is superflous, so I haven't read it). I happen to know what 'eukaryotic' means, but it too is linked to an article that starts with a brief explanation ("Animals, plants, fungi, and protists are eukaryotes"). The next sentence explains what they do. I don't know what 'phosphorylation' is, but it sounds like a chemical reaction involving phosphorus; it's again linked to an explanatory article.

The article continues pretty much in this vein. If I wanted to I could look up the precise details of what it means that it contains phospholipid bilayers, etc...

There is just too little science in Wikipedia (1)

mishagam (918459) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096861)

I agree that Wikipedia sucks on science, but not because it is not accessible. There is just too little information, information on many many topics is absent, scientific value of existing information is often lacking.
It is because probably there is too few scientists willing to spend time adding information to Wikipedia. We probably need to understand that Wikipedia is public good and make adding to it something like little publishing in scientists estimations, so scientists could assume that adding valuable info to Wikipedia will improve their careers.

Right-ascension and declination (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19096883)

I was trying to figure out how to use the numbers yesterday, but the Wikipedia articles for them lack useful information for non-astronomers.

Quality is good. Readability should be paramount. (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Freak (16973) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096893)

I recently did some research on Wikipedia on the Roman Empire. I ran into repeated use of the term "don the purple" when describing the accession of Roman emperors. Yet I NEVER found a description of what "the purple" really meant. Was it the crown? Was it a robe? Was it just an abstract term used with no direct object being referenced?

I asked about it on a talk page, and instead of somebody actually telling me, they said it should be obvious, and complained that I was nitpicking.

I know that when I edit articles in subjects I am knowledgeable about, I try to REMOVE 'jargon' when at all possible. If the jargon is an essential part of the article, then I make sure to explain the meaning in layman's terms, or link the jargon-esque word to an article that explains what it means.

Encyclopedias are *NOT* research journals. They should explain the subject in terms that someone who is wholly unfamiliar with the subject can understand. Yes, 'dumbing down' may create times when an article is technically inaccurate, but such inaccuracies in the name of simplicity should be noted, with a link to a more technically accurate, if less readable, explanation.

Wikipedia is popular because it's not a magazine (1)

willpost (449227) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096901)

I was so disappointed after Discover magazine was dumbed down in 1985 and Scientific American in 2001. Wired has always been dumbed down. When you read those magazines today, all of the articles have literary and visual fluff.

I'm sorry if paid journalists are finding it too difficult to copy and paste from wikipedia, but a science is about accurate information, not creative writing contests.

Dumb it down?!?!? (3, Insightful)

Secret Rabbit (914973) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096903)

I'd like to know just how someone would explain what a metric space is to a layman and still have the explanation maintain Mathematical integrity.

The Wikipedia is meant for informational purposes. NOT for presenting introductory material. If an introduction is needed there are tonnes of 1st year texts. If the lay-person wants something dumbed down for them, there is the science section of newspapers.

That's rich. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19096933)

So, sorry to the wikiphiles out there, but the problem now is that Wikipedia is "TOO accurate"?

Sorry, don't buy it. And, frankly, I think this is a cynical way to divert discussion from the problems wikipedia has with accuracy in general. Focus the discussion on "is wikipedia just too good?" instead of "is wikipedia inaccurate on myriad topics?"

In general, wikipedia is a great introductory information source, but it's not a replacement for detailed, technical, specialized knowledge. It's not. Sorry if the goal is "all informaiton about everything," but wikipedia needs to understand it has a role, and a good one, but it's never going to be the universal source of all learning.

Lest someone confuse me for a wikibasher, I like wikipedia. I use it all the time for an unfamiliar term or a concept I don't understand. It's usually all I need. But it's not a graduate course in, say, quantum thermodynamics.

EOL (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19096977)

http://www.eol.org/ [eol.org] The encyclopedia of life looks to have the right idea. It will be an encyclopedia of every species of organism on Earth. If you check out their demo pages, you'll see they're going to have a slider bar for species, from Novice to Expert. This allows you to tailor the page to your needs. The more detailed information is there, but you can look at a dumbed down version of the page if you only want rudimentary knowledge. Wikipedia would benefit greatly from a similar structure.
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  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>