Relying on Wikipedia

With Wikipedia recently coming under scrutiny in regards to its accuracy I feel it is prudent to point out that no one source of should be relied upon for your information.

I use (and recommend) that Wikipedia be used as a starting point for research – instead of starting a search for “beetroot” on Google and haphazardly searching for information a search on Wikipedia will give you a much better idea of what to look for along with some useful data (which should then be confirmed from a different source).

Wikipedia is no-different as far as I’m concerned from picking up a copy of the Encylopaedia Britannica. In terms of its accuracy, I’ve never spotted anything which was completely incorrect – there were minor mistakes, but the beauty of a wiki is that changes can be made.

Speaking to people involved in academia, there is a general feeling that Wikipedia is being used as the sole source of information in research assignments – even at second year university.

But, without people knowing that you have to research a subject through multiple sources – and getting it from primary sources whereever available – I fear that society will get to a point where ‘research’ will wholly comprise a Google search and a quick glance at the result from Wikipedia.

The real concern is that, in time people will blindly accept incorrect information simply because its on [insert popular website here]. For example, people used to believe what they heard in the newspapers because it “has to be true”, this belief later migrated to radio – a famous example being Orson Welles radio broadcast of War of the Worlds. This belief further moved onwards to television and now it is starting to become ingraned to the internet – possibly the largest cesspool of crap humanity has ever invented – and also, potentially one of the most useful ways to share valid information.

One Comment

  1. Posted 21 December 2005 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    For all its negatives Wikipedia is a very powerful tool. For one thing it gives voice to those who may not have one. Your average person cannot write an entry for the Encyclopedia Britannica, but they can post in a Wiki if they have internet access.

    This means that there are entries on Wiki from the perspective of non-mainstream groups, such as environmentalists, activists etc and makes it a very powerful tool for those with less power.

    Of course as has been seen recently, it also provides a tool for persons who wish to make slanderous un biased remarks. It’s not a perfect system and requires alot of good will and vigilance to keep it running smoothly.