Wikipedia: Should We, Or Should We Not Use it?

Throughout my entire academic career, I have been told to never use Wikipedia as a source for assignments and papers.  I was told it was not a reliable source when trying to complete assignments that required accurate information because Wikipedia itself, is not reliable.  However, if I wanted to look at Wikipedia for information on general inquiries, there was no issue, so long as I did not include it in my references when handing in something for evaluation.  Personally, I do not know how I feel about Wikipedia as a reliable source for information.  On the one hand, I have seen first hand how inaccurate some of the information is on the ‘free encyclopedia.’  On the other hand, I know from past knowledge and from the assigned readings for this week, how accurate the information can be.  Before reading the articles for this week, I was ‘on the fence’ about Wikipedia as a reliable source.  I felt that most of the information is accurate, however, we still need to conduct further research to make sure the information we are reading on this site is as accurate as possible, due to the fact that it is a site that is a ‘collaborative development environment’ (Royal and Kapila, 2009, p. 139).  As a result, I also felt that I would never use Wikipedia as a source of information when completing assignments that require accurate information.  It is too risky.

“Wikipedia’s policy of letting anyone create and edit content causes the information to be inaccurate, misleading, or generally incorrect, both purposefully and accidentally” (Royal and Kapila, p. 139).  I feel this is everyone’s concern when looking at Wikipedia, which is why most teachers and professors forbid the use of Wikipedia as a reliable source for information regarding papers and assignments.  By this token, I completely agree that it is unreliable since anyone can edit the content on the website, thus causing the site to lose credibility.  I feel Jensen (2012) made a fantastic point in saying that, allowing anyone to edit is an invitation for immature individuals to edit entries and produce inaccurate information.  This then makes the source unreliable.  Even though Jensen (2012) discusses how these immature posts are taken down as quickly as possible, I still feel there is always going to be inaccuracy somewhere on this website.  Due to the fact that there are millions of entries made on a weekly basis, I feel it is highly unlikely that all of these entries are edited on a regular basis, and that the ‘immature’ posts are taken down in a timely fashion.  Furthermore, even if these posts are edited, it does not stop others from changing these entries over and over again.  For example, someone decided to create an article about my brother’s soccer career on Wikipedia.  While 98% of the information was accurate, there were a couple entries that were not.  My brother decided to edit the information, however, the original author took down his edit even though he was editing information about himself.  This goes to show that not all of the entries in Wikipedia are accurate.  Thus, this has led me to believe that it is not the most reliable source of information.

Even though Wikipedia is not entirely concrete in terms of their information, I have also come to realize that nothing is 100% accurate.  In fact, Wikipedia and Britannica were compared in a study about the amount of mistakes they both had when comparing 42 random science articles (Royal and Kapila, 2005).  Giles (2005) states that there were mistakes in both encyclopedias, and the amount of mistakes did not differ by much; 162 for Wikipedia and 123 for Britannica.  Interestingly enough, Britannica did not comment on these findings, however they did say that they conducted their own research and found that Wikipedia had numerous mistakes, but they did not mention anything about their own mistakes (Giles, 2005). Even though Britannica mentioned that they have nothing against the ‘free encyclopedia,’ they still suggested they obtain a better editor (Giles, 2005).  When looking at these findings in the Giles article, one could argue that their findings are slightly biased to make themselves look better than Wikipedia.  Either way, the Giles article has opened my eyes in such a way that has made me realize that everything we read may not be completely accurate, and in actuality, Wikipedia is more accurate then we think.  However, we still need to be wary of the mistakes in Wikipedia because there were more mistakes found on their site.

Before reading the assigned articles for this week, my confidence in Wikipedia as a reliable source was 50/50.  I have been told throughout my whole life that it is an inaccurate source because anyone who has access to a computer can edit the content provided by the website.  However, Wikipedia does try its best to eliminate these errors and take down posts/comments that are incorrect and replace them with the correct information.  It was also noted that the number of Wikipedia’s mistakes and Britannica’s mistakes were close in number, thus indicating that Wikipedia is not as inaccurate as one might think.  After reading these articles, I have deduced that Wikipedia, for the most part, has accurate information, but I would still not use it as a resource to obtain information for any assignments.  Therefore, I feel as though my 50/50 view of Wikipedia as a reliable did not change much after reading these articles.  If I ever used Wikipedia as a resource, I would make sure to check out the references at the end of each article to make sure that the information is obtained from reliable sources and is correct.

Wikipedia

Photo:   I feel this photo represents what Wikipedia is – People all over the world posting information on Wikipedia’s articles to try and complete the puzzle (information) as much as possible.  However, we do not know if the puzzle is actually complete, or if it will ever be complete.

References

Forsythe, G. (Artist). (2012, November 10). Wikipedia [Graphic]. Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/gforsythe/8174197748/

Giles. J. (2005). Special Report: Internet encyclopaedias go head to head. Nature. 438, pp 900-901

Jensen, R. (2012). Military History on the Electronic Frontier: Wikipedia Fights the War of 1812. Journal of Military History. 76, 1. pp 1165-1182

Royal, C. & Kapila, D. (2009). What’s on Wikipedia, and What’s Not . . . ?: Assessing Completeness of Information. Social Science Computer Review. 27, 1. pp 138-148.

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7 thoughts on “Wikipedia: Should We, Or Should We Not Use it?

  1. The study you found regarding Wikipedia and Britannica was very interesting. I assumed that the amount of incorrect and inaccurate articles in Wikipedia would be higher then Britannica. This study in fact rationalized that Wikipedia is not the only free encyclopedia with inaccurate information. Since Britannica only had a few less incorrect then Wikipedia, this was shocking to me.
    Your statement saying “we still need to be wary of the mistakes in Wikipedia because there were more mistakes found on their site” is exactly what I think as well. Going through all stages of school, especially university we were always told not to use Wikipedia for academic assignments. This was engraved into my head and I have never used it. But now I know after reading your post and all the readings the reasons why it’s bad to use this site. After reading you post and understanding the study that was conducted, I have further realized why I do not use Wikipedia!

    Also I really like you picture, as soon as I saw it i thought of Wikipedia. Good choice!

  2. What a great example you have presented to us regarding the (un)reliability of the collaborative authoring environment. As you mention, even though a large percentage of the information about your brother was accurate it must be frustrating for him to have erroneous information published about himself and even more frustrating that his corrections were edited out. Do you know if the person who changed your brother’s corrections knew that they were authored by him? This goes back to the Royal and Kapila (2009) “purposefully and accidentally” comment regarding open creation and editing of content. Examples such as the one you have provided leave me wondering just how many people are there purposefully pouring inaccurate content onto the Wikipedia pages? I don’t think I’ll ever understand this sort of behaviour but it seems to fall into the same realm as those who release computer viruses or fill our inboxes with spam and scams. As users in an electronic era we must be aware that this sort of negative behaviour can lurk in the results of each click and continuously test and verify the information we receive, be it a Wikipedia page, a blog post or an email from the lawyer of a long lost relative 😉

  3. Great post, I was really surprised to hear that story about the article about your brother’s soccer career. After reading this weeks articles I actually gained a new perspective about Wikipedia that lead me to believe that it was actually decently reliable and an accurate source of information. But after reading that comment about how someone was taking off edited information from the article about your brother’s soccer career it kind of makes me think otherwise now. I really agree with your comment about how not everything we read or see anywhere can ever be 100% accurate. I have always been a strong believer of this statement. I always get a good chuckle when a friend will say to me…”It’s true, I saw it on TV!” I think our generation is very used to being able to access information 24/7 since it is always at the tip f our fingers. The downfall of this is that many people believe that the information they see anywhere is always true. People become reliant on the facts and information presented to them, but who’s to say what’s true or not?

  4. The example of your brother’s soccer career article paints an accurate picture of the type of information on Wikipedia. I find that so interesting because the Wikipedia philosophy is that by having a large number of editors and a large correspondence of readers and editors who can alter the information according to their knowledge creates accurate information. It is like a traditional barn raising, where a whole community comes together to (re)build a barn or a single member of the community. Wikipedia would suggest that if there are many helpers the barn will be completed successfully. But, Wikipedia over looks the fact that within the volunteers there may be some who have never seen a barn before, others who have never seen one built, some who have seen one built but never built one, and amateur and expert builders. The problem is that because of the large number of volunteer builders, the experts cannot take over and begin directing because too many people “think” they know how to build a barn. In the end, by shear luck, they may build a successful, sturdy barn; however, there is also the possibility that the barn does not stand the first wind storm.

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