Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Wikipedia: Use It Wisely

Allison O'Brien

Wikipedia, one of many Wikimedia projects, has been around since 2001. This means that Wikipedia started the same year that I started the first grade. Needless to say, there have been countless reports, essays, projects, etc. that required Internet research in my years since 2001. I feel like I've used Wikipedia so many times for so many different things that I must have read it all, but since the reality is that there are over 24 million articles, I know that I've barely scratched the surface.

Source: http://adigaskell.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/wikipedia-research.jpg

Although I have scanned Wikipedia for information many times over the years, it has always been a tricky one for me. According to wikimediafoundation.org, "With the exception of fair use material, all information in Wikimedia projects can be freely shared, freely distributed, freely modified and freely used for any purpose, commercial or non-commercial in perpetuity." Because of this, I have had so many teachers in so many classes tell me that Wikipedia was NOT a credible source and that we shouldn't use it for research based assignments.  I've also had some say that we could never use Wikipedia as a cited source.  This made me start adopting the philosophy that if I can't cite it, why even use it?

In this article called Why You Shouldn't Use Wikipedia For Research, it is explained that using Wikipedia can be harmful since anyone on the Internet can write or edit the entries. It says that it's acceptable to use Wikipedia just to collect background information but gives the following tips on how to use it effectively: verify the information you find with at least two other sources, cite the authoritative source in your paper and not Wikipedia and check with your academic library site or a librarian if you're unsure.

Even big whigs at Wikipedia itself don't claim that Wikipedia should be your go-to source for all information and research needs. Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, said in a 2005 interview with Business Week that students should never cite encyclopedias in general, including Wikipedia. He said that they should only be used for background information and NOT as the primary form of research for a report or project. 

After years of hearing "Don't use Wikipedia! It's not a credible source!" I have definitely tried to stray away. Occasionally I'll find something on Wikipedia and then try to find other sources to confirm the authenticity, but honestly, that's just doing more work than is necessary. It's easier to just go straight to other sources than have to decipher the accuracy of a specific Wikipedia page.

It's abundantly clear that credibility is Wikipedia's major issue. So why don't they try to address this? I think it would be very beneficial if Wikipedia could find some way to monitor their articles for authenticity and inaccurate edits. If this were the case, we wouldn't be left wondering if our Wikipedia page's information is trustworthy and credible or if a random editor of the page has duped us. Although some think students shouldn't use encyclopedias for research assignments in general, it would still be nice to have more confidence in the accuracy of Wikipedia's information.  

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