Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Wikipedia: Do all the work but get none of the credit

Christopher Miller
Today we rely on electronic technology and other forms of social media like Facebook and Twitter to a far greater extent than ever before, especially within all levels of academia whether it be for middle school book reports or dissertations for doctorate degrees.
Similarly, whether it be for that book report or that dissertation, one of the first places we will consult for information or aid in our research process is the Internet, more specifically a quick Google search which will almost certainly present us with a rather lengthy yet very informative Wikipedia page undoubtedly linked to dozens of other Wikipedia pages all relating to our desired topic.
When people are confronted with a question they don’t know the answer to they will often say something along the lines of, “Well, I have no idea, but Google knows.” Well, the same sentiment can be said for Wikipedia. You will be hard-pressed to have a search or query in which Wikipedia can be of no help to you. Of course none of this should be a surprise to the informed Wikipedia user who would be well aware of Wikipedia’s extensive global reach which comprises more than 24 million articles written in 284 languages and is free to virtually anyone with Internet access (wikimediafoundation.org, 2015).
Spongebob - Wikipedia knows everything
It is remarkable for a website like Wikipedia to be so widely utilized and appreciated and yet so distrusted within the academic community at the same time. Despite the distrust though, attitudes of teachers and professors
alike have shifted from “never use Wikipedia under any circumstance” to “its fine to use Wikipedia to get you started, but still never cite it as a source within your work.”
It is understandable that using Wikipedia must be done with a sense of skepticism since its content is primarily user generated content. It allows anyone located anywhere the opportunity to contribute to a page regardless of qualifications. Because of this, there is no guarantee regarding the validity or factual legitimacy of what is posted, hence a justified sense of skepticism is warranted. 
Gripes about Wikipedia’s content accuracy aside, Wikipedia is not much different from many of the news sources and outlets that we deem to be “credible
” and “trustworthy. “ For example, Wikipedia has a common goal of trying to make material in the Wikimedia projects broadly accessible to all. They strive to impact the largest-possible number of readers and contributors as easily as possible, and to eliminate barriers that could preclude people from accessing or contributing to our projects, such as poor usability and accessibility, lack of language support, and limited access to technology (wikimediafoundation.org, 2015).
Additionally, they strive to adhere to many of the core values of journalism
we have referenced in class including transparency, independence, and others. In terms of overall goal and organizational values Wikipedia is largely the same as your “traditional trustworthy news source.”

With this in mind, the lone question I have is, Why not take the next step and try to verify and validate the information post on the site? Why not try to fix their biggest problem area, which is their perceived lack of truthfulness and credibility.
Condescending Wonka: Wikipedia by Lecter-the-Werewolf
As anyone who has ever written a paper will tell you, much of the information and evidence they use originated in a Wikipedia article. But, since Wikipedia is not a “citable source” you have to go find the exact same information in a “reputable source” like a book, scholarly journal, or library database. At the end of the day, the evidence that is used in the paper is identical to that of the Wikipedia article, but it contains a “reputable” citation, whatever that means.
The adage goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Wikipedia certainly isn’t broke it has been flourishing and growing strong since its creation in 2001 and Wikimedia has created dozens of other projects within the last decade and a half. Some may argue Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects are as strong as it has ever been. However, what is the point of doing all the work if you get no true credit? What is the point of writing millions upon millions of Wikipedia pages that can never be credited or cited in scholarly work even though it may display accurate information? As the writer or author of this content published to Wikipedia, you never get to enjoy the fruits of your labor. You and only you know the work, effort, and time that went into crafting that Wikipedia page.
Wikipedia displays a wealth of information over a plethora of topics, much of it is accurate, but unfortunately some of it is not because of Wikipedia’s commitment to the value of freedom and open source. This commitment will prevent it from ever being viewed as a “reputable source” worthy of academic citation. I would like to see Wikipedia take the appropriate step to verify the factual validity and accuracy of the content it publishes. Eliminate the only reason the public has for not viewing Wikipedia as a legitimate source for research. Students everywhere use Wikipedia in their research anyway, save them the extra step of having to rediscover the same information in a “scholarly source” by not allowing your average Joe to publish anything he or she wants on a Wikipedia page. Instead, try to vet and verify the factual validity and accuracy of the content they publish.

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