Terror. Fear. Wikipedia!

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Wikipedia. The mention of the word is enough to strike terror in the minds of many academic teachers. Wikipedia is not reliable and should not be used for research ever. Correct? That's what students have been told for a while. But now? Things are changing. Is Wikipedia changing? Or our views of the source?

But an encyclopedia can be a valid starting point for research.
Lisa Spiro

Lisa Spiro's article, "Is Wikipedia Becoming a Respectable Academic Source?", investigates the changing status of Wikipedia. The point I liked best is the same point Dr. Jerz bought up in our class, Writing for the Internet. Wikipedia may not be a good source to quote in a paper but it can certainly be a good point to start when looking for research. Not everything from Wikipedia can be trusted as reliable but it's certainly a good place to start looking.

Even though Spiro mentions that citing Wikipedia could be ok in some instances, I don't agree. I think sticking with using Wikipedia as a starting point is a good idea. There's no reason to cite Wikipedia when a more reliable source can be found.

Wikipedia is a project whose failure is genetically programmed into its mechanisms[...]
Andrew Orlowski

Andrew Orlowski's article, "There's no Wikipedia entry for 'moral responsibility'", views Wikipedia in the entirely opposite way. He does not agree that Wikipedia is a trusted source. He uses the example of John Seigenthaler, whose Wikipedia biography was altered to contain incorrect information. This false information was not corrected for months. When the perpetrator was found, Brain Chase, he claimed that he thought Wikipedia was a joke site. He made the change to the entry just as a jest.

(There is a site, Uncyclopedia, that is a spoof of Wikipedia. It is made of up stories that are entirely fake. The main point of the site is entertainment and to poke fun at Wikipedia. Apparently, some people are confusing the two sites.)

Orlowski states that there are two general defenses for Wikipedia. One defense for Wikipedia is that NO source can be completely trusted. So why is Wikipedia made out to be the bad guy? The other defense states that anyone can edit the information found on the site. When information is found to be incorrect, Wikipedia can then blame the user for not finding the correct information and making the necessary change.

Orlowski shoots down both of these ideas. In response to the first statement, he says, "only a paranoiac, or a mad person, can sustain this level of defensiveness for any length of time [...]." He claims that only a mad person could truly go through life questioning the validity of every single source. In response to the other defense, that users have the ability to change incorrect information, Orlowski says that this is only a way to take the blame off Wikipedia. 

After reading these two articles, I still stick with my original idea. Use Wikipedia as a starting point, if you must. Don't quote the Wikipedia article itself. There is not enough evidence that Wikipedia is a reliable source at all.

Go here for reliable sources? Well... student opinions.

1 Comments

Another thing to consider is how the administrative bias affects content that is on Wikipedia - and content that is *not* on Wikipedia...

And that different languages can have completely different entries.

It's a starting point. But there are other starting points as well. A library is a good source for a starting point - just saying that there is a reference in a book is enough for Wikipedia entries. Who verifies the references? ;-)

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