To be more productive, a group of engineers and managers at Intel Corp. has adopted a “quiet time” to eliminate office distractions. On Tuesday mornings they turn off their e-mail, forward calls to voice mail, decline all meetings, and hang a Do Not Disturb sign on their doors. Some say distractions such as a steady barrage of e-mail and phone calls hinder the ability to focus on work that requires creativity and analysis. But others argue that it’s vital to respond promptly so co-workers can get the answers they need. Would you want your employer to adopt a quiet time like Intel’s?
Respond to this question by e-mail or regular mail. Space may not permit publication of all responses, but we’ll try to draw a representative sample. Responses will appear in the June issue of The Institute and may be edited for brevity. Suggestions for questions are welcome.
Responses to December’s question
Wikipedia: Fact or Fiction?
A Caltech graduate student has developed a search tool that can trace who makes entries in Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that lets anyone edit content on everything from Paris Hilton to the history of electricity. The Web site has become a popular one-stop research source, but there’s a debate about its information. Entries have been found to be inaccurate; at least one person discovered that his biography contained false, defamatory information. And the new search tool revealed that many companies delete negative, though factual, information about themselves.
How much do you trust Wikipedia’s content?
Wikipedia is so variable that it cannot be trusted as a research source. I would berate any student who considered it a worthwhile source on its own. It can be useful with corroborating sources, but then why bother with it when those other sites can be used instead? Let the researcher beware if we continue to accept Wikipedia as the source of misinformation that it is.
Auckland, New Zealand
Depends on the Subject
I’ve been using Wikipedia for about three years and have seen significant improvement in that time. While I agree that for critical uses you would want a resource that’s less subject to random edits, I usually find it’s not hard to distinguish high-quality Wikipedia articles from less credible ones.
Articles on engineering subjects are usually in great need of improvement since they are often long, poorly organized, and overspecialized.
Winnipeg, Man., Canada
Far From Fiction
Wikipedia is a convenient and valuable tool. I trust it more than I trust The New York Times or scientific papers written by academics. But like everything else created by humans, it has errors and contains the biases of those who write or edit the articles. However, Wikipedia has something that no paper publication has: the ability to be corrected by its readers. Don’t sell it short, and don’t call it fiction.
New York, N.Y.
Proceed With Caution
I am a university professor, and I know that a lot of students use Wikipedia. I always advise them to use it as a starting point and to certify the information from other valid sources.
Quality Control Lacking
I am a professor of electrical engineering at South Dakota State University, in Brookings. After a student wrote a term paper with information I knew to be inaccurate, I found that the information had come from Wikipedia. I have since prohibited students from using the site for any papers in my classes. It’s unfortunate, because I like the concept behind Wikipedia, but the quality control mechanisms do not seem to be working.
A Good Learning Tool
I always view information on Wikipedia with skepticism, but I rarely find errors. One instance in which Wikipedia was correct while many of the textbooks I consulted were wrong was in stating the difference between a latch and a flip-flop: a latch is transparent, while a flip-flop is edge-triggered. It has been frustrating trying to teach the distinction to my students because of the ambiguity in most textbooks. I refer my students regularly to definitions in Wikipedia.
El Segundo, Calif.
Cut It Some Slack
Wikipedia may not be a professional encyclopedia, but it has good features. Most online encyclopedias are available only to paid subscribers. Wikipedia is accessible to everyone and contains much more information than any other encyclopedia. It may have inaccuracies, but because it has many readers errors can be quickly identified and corrected. Most information on Wikipedia is reliable enough to give a general idea of what a subject is about.
Stony Brook, N.Y.
It’s Getting There
Finding and fixing false or incomplete information is the cornerstone of Wikipedia. The Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit that operates the Web site, has started an initiative to counteract some of the complaints about inaccuracy. Veropedia, an Internet encyclopedia within Wikipedia, has experts proofread Wikipedia articles, and it posts read-only versions of accurate articles. The Mediawiki software developers are preparing a “stable revisions” extension that would require edits to be checked by reputable editors before they go live. Wikipedia is evolving, and problems, once found, are quickly corrected. If it isn’t reputable now, it certainly is on the road to becoming so.
IEEE Member Whitworth is a member of Wikibooks, a project that, along with Wikipedia, is funded by the Wikimedia Foundation. —Ed.