This is a guest blog post written by Katie Pestridge.
A coworker and I got into a discussion about the credibility of Wikipedia. (Ricky) said that he uses the site all the time and has never received wrong information. He truly believes that Wikipedia is a credible source and that you can rely on it for factual information. I believe that Wikipedia is not a creditable source. The main problem I have is that Wikipedia does not seek out experts in the fields they have information about. Instead they let anyone who can use a computer write the entries. I have an issue with just any Sally Smith being able to make changes to the site. I also do not think that the moderators (who are from Wikipedia) are knowledgeable enough to monitor the information on the site.
Wikipedia & Accuracy
An article I found said that the creators of Wikipedia are the first to admit that not every entry is accurate and that it might not be the best source of material for research papers.
They gave a list of things to consider:
- Look for a slant – some articles are fair and balanced but others are very biased. If an article has only one source beware.
- Consider the source – even if an article cites external sources, check out those sources to see whether they are being cited fairly and accurately.
- Look who’s talking – If you research the contributors themselves and find that they are experts in their fields, you can be more confident in the entry.
- Start here, but keep going – Wikipedia should be a starting point for research but not your primary source for research material.
Wikipedia & the U.S. Courts
Another article I read stated that the U.S. court of international trade said that Wikipedia is not a reliable source. In the case between BP and the United States, BP challenged the Customs and Border Protection’s classification of its merchandise, the U.S. court of international trade went into reliability of Wikipedia. BP had frequently referred to Wikipedia to argue that its product was petroleum oil and not a preparation.
The footnote from the court says Wikipedia is a “user-contributed online encyclopedia” compiled of articles placed on “web sites that allow users to directly edit any web page on their own from their home computer.” Wikipedia’s construction is based on the theory that “allowing anyone who surfs along to add or delete content on that page” will result in “a credible, balanced encyclopedia by way of an ad hoc open source, open-editing movement.”
Although the court is aware that some studies have led prominent scholars to promote Wikipedia’s veracity, see Yochani Benkler, The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom, and acknowledges that several circuit courts have relied on it in opinions, Countless district courts have held that “Wikipedia is not a reliable source at this level of discourse.” Based on the ability of any user to alter Wikipedia, the court is skeptical of it as a consistently reliable source of information. At this time, therefore, the court does not accept Wikipedia for the purpose of judicial notice.
Wikipedia & College
An article from MSNBC talked with a college professor, which got his view point on Wikipedia. He said he was looking through a stack of final examinations and found several instances of misinformation that were identical from one student to another. All of the students in his class had been steered wrong by the same source, Wikipedia. After this incident the entire department banned students from using Wikipedia as a source in their papers, although they are allowed to consult it for background material. Professors at other schools quickly mimicked this move.
As controversies have grown, Wikipedia has had to fight to uphold its reputation or, what’s left of it. They have said, “reaching neutrality is occasionally made harder by extreme-viewpoint contributors” and it warns that, “Wikipedia makes no guarantee of validity.” In a general disclaimer it says, “please be advised that nothing found here has necessarily been reviewed by people with the expertise required to provide you with complete, accurate or reliable information.”
What do you think; is Wikipedia a credible source? If so, what do you use it for?
Work cited includes: