It’s been told to us practically ever since we’ve started writing papers: Wikipedia is an unreliable source for information and cannot be cited. I have always been taken aback by this statement. It’s always common knowledge to me that the site is bound to have at least a couple of inaccuracies, but are our common Encyclopedia Britannicas and Annual Almanacs that much better?
A few studies have recently been conducted to analyze the accuracy of Wikipedia vs. more traditional sources. The first of them was from the Nature journal, which gathered 42 separate articles from both Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Britannica to count a total of errors made in each one. The results gathered that there were only four major errors recorded in the Wikipedia sample, and the same amount as the Britannica, meaning that there was no major accuracy difference between the two.
The website livescience.com decided to take matters into their own hands and conduct their own study for source accuracy by consulting two experts in drastically different fields, pop music and theoretical physics, and review two Wikipedia articles respective towards their expertise. For the physics page John Hopkins professor Adam Riess was given a Wikipedia article on dark energy to peer review, and the results proved to be positive with Reiss claiming that the content was “better than 95 percent correct.” However for the pop music article, Nate Donmoyer who was the drummer for the band written in his given article, found significantly more errors in his page; 10 to be exact.
However this information shouldn’t discredit the accuracy of the site at all, the fact still remains that by and large the two sources should have the same amount of credibility in the academic world for a couple of reasons.
The first is that the latter study unfairly compared a widely discussed and researched academic study to a cultural phenomenon, something that will inherently be more subjected by word of mouth and rumor because Wikipedia is an open source for content creation, Donmoyer could have very easily suggested edits to any of the site’s editors as to what information is accurate or not.
This leads into the second point of being pro-Wikipedia is that the editorial board is not as passive as people would assume. Editors on Wikipedia are in fact very strict to what content is to be published and peer review articles constantly so that inaccurate information can be fixed. I have had this happen to me personally as I have a wiki account and in the past have suggested additions or changes of content on articles. At any time if one of the sites editors found my information to be inaccurate, they would immediately contact me, usually within 24 hours, and would give me the option of citing my sources or my content would be removed under speedy deletion. Wikipedia has a strict editorial policy that does not allow opinionated, libelous, or personalized content on the site, and many times I have personally seen these rules upheld by the editors of the site.
So these reasons coupled with the fact that the first study already had a bigger sample size, a factor crucial for gaining accurate results, indicates that although not perfect Wikipedia is at the very least just as credible as major sources we’ve been using for over 100 years now. When new technologies that provide sources for information arise, we should treat them with the same amount of respect and attention for improvement as any other established site. Did people just shrug their shoulders and dismissed when Guttenberg starting publishing the bible on his printing press? No, when new opportunities for spreading information arises we have to take these moments as a sign of progress and prosperity, especially when something gains as much recognition as Wikipedia has. We have to concede with the change and try and improve these new systems in order for more people to receive a wealth of knowledge.
Photo Credit: Wikipedia