Wikipedia: Good or Bad?

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How useful is Wikipedia for academic work?

Lisa Spiro would say that it is useful in some contexts.  While it is not good to base the entire topic of your paper on, you can use some of the information without fear because the history page of the entry keeps track of all the changes, and stores edited entries.  She tells us that the fact that anyone can make an edition should not deter us either because "good stuff often emerges" from the battle between vandals and "Wikipedia guardians."  This text left me with a feeling of ambiguity.  It is okay to use it here and now, but don't trust it too much.  Enough trust can be placed in the citation, but not enough that you can make it the central point of an argument.

Andrew Orlowski takes the opposite stance.  He portrays Wikipedia, through the John Seigenthaler debacle, as a anarchistic society on the internet.  He says that through a lack of rules and authority, Wikipedia places the blame on the user for not correcting the changes.  He finds Wikipedia to have no value at all because amatures and vandals can ruin all sorts of information.  While he does mirror my feelings to a large extent, I cannot agree with him on the idea of user culpability.  I am not saying the Mr. Seigenthatler had to come along and fix the article himself, but out of all the users of Wikipedia, no one caught that mistake and rectified it.  The other thing is that he does not describe Wikipedia as public opinion.  On Wikipedia's brief overview of its policies (which I will write an entry on later) describes consensus as the number one policy of the website.  Of course, they do not explain the concept in detail on the page, but basically that means that when two parties are in conflict over some information, they should arrive at a compromise.  From Wikipedia, you are (hopefully) gaining information about how a majority of the people feel about an issue, or at the very least, where the middle road lies.

Finally, I discovered from Spiro's article, Alan Liu's Wikipedia Use Policy.  I really liked the information that came from Liu's site.  It is short, only two main points and three sub-points, and explicit, explaining why you should not use any encyclopedia for information that is complex, controversial, or central to your argumen.  I thought that he makes an interesting argument for writing down the exact time that you visited a page in your citation.

Ultimately, after reading three articles on the topic, I would inveigh against using Wikipedia as a source.  Everyone agrees, though to varying extents and degrees of importance, that the entries are just too volatile.  The information you get on there now may not be there in five seconds.  I remember finding "Johnny Cash sucks butt" at the bottom of a list of personalities from the '60's, then clicking refresh, and it was gone.  With such ambiguity about whether the information is accurate and will still be there when your sources are verified, I cannot bring myself to understand going through the trouble of finding the information on Wikipedia, and then going back only to find out that it has been destroyed.  I hate research enough already, I sure as heck am not going to waste my time on Wikipedia.

Another website that changes by the minute: EL236.

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