Wikipedia in Academia: Can we trust the “Free Encyclopedia” for everything?

Dear College Educators,

You’re right…to an extent…for all those times that Wikipedia was rebuked as a credible source before passing out that not so exciting research paper. Wikipedia may be free, but not of errors. After the multiple encounters of cramming before a test for my science courses and writing a quick research paper for a literature course, not once did I use Wikipedia. Together with the horrible organization on some entries and the massive inundating blocks of texts, I just never found the entries on Wikipedia helpful…and frankly, I just don’t think they’re completely true.

Accoridng to the “Free Encylopedia”, everyone and anyone is free to access and edit the webpage. Sure, this strikes fear in all grammar enthusiasts, but there are some limitations to that access. Sites that are suspetible to vandalism are given more security and are less lenient to being editted. But peopel can still buypass this issue on vandalism. Harvard details a story on their writing site about a time where an student made a gag-entry on himself and became a self-proclaimed mayor in China. Years later a student doing research on mayors in China were siting infomration about a false ruler of China!

A study published in Nature in 2005 showed that Wikipedia had extreme similarity to reliability and facts as Encycolopedia Britannica, the epitome of an online encylcopedia. Natalie Wochover in LifeScience.com conducted her own study by asking the validty of Wikipedia on phsyics and pop culture topics, appaled to find more acuracy on “dark energy” and less on Passion Pit’s drummer Nate Donmoyer’s biography. The simialrities in errors may push me to find some peace in using Wikipedia for everything, but small errors in something so straight-forward, indicate the issue with bias and accuracy that is instilled in editors of Wikipedia.

Now I know what you’re thinking…this can’t be real. Hakeem doesn’t believe in Wikipedia!? The truth is, I do…but to an extent. For topics that I don’t mind the severity of false information, I use Wikipedia. Everyone who has that one friend that always HAS to be right will understand the following comand: “Siri, how old is Britney Spears”. Now, I really don’t care how old Britney Spears is, but I’ll take a bet that she isn’t younger than 30. Now with my low confidence in Wikipedia, I’m sure that I’d win the bet. A celebrity’s age should not be something up for contention. However, topics that are, Global Warming for instance, does. … The Washington Post describes instance where the “hot-button issue” can be updated 2–3 times a day from “a consensus view that it is man made” to “Global Warming is a sham” and entire deleted paragraphs. Although currency isn’t effected here, accuracy, extreme bias, and originality is lacking here.

All in all, the benefits do not outweigh the risks when it comes to using Wikipedia as a source. It may be the love-child Siri and Google have come to love, but for me it’s a problematic teenager in dire need of a reference check.

An unamused student,

Hakeem

Adapted from Kim-Daniel’s Digital Blog