Wikipedia - Is it credible and can we use it?

Wikipedia LogoWikipedia is a great source of all sorts of information. I often go there myself to get a basic understanding of a topic. But wikipedia has been attacked as non-credible and containing false information. We're going to explore if these claims are true or false and decide what to do with wikipedia. First, we need to understand how wikipedia works. The word "wikipedia" is a mashing of two words. "wiki" is a Hawaiian word for quick, and the end of wikipedia is taken from encyclopedia. A wiki on the Internet is a site that allows anyone to edit the information on the page. Anyone can change a wikipedia article by clicking the edit tab and making changes.

  • Problems?
  • At first glance that might seem like a huge problem. If anyone can change the content, how do I know if its accurate? Wikipedia is based on the concept of peer collaboration. The basic idea is that so many people use wikipedia that any errors or negative changes will be fixed by another user. A common quote is that "given enough eyes, all bugs are shallow." In wikipedia's case, the bugs would be false information that's been edited into the page.
  • Studies
  • In fact studies by the BBC and Nature Magazine have shown that wikipedia has the same reliability as traditional encyclopedias such as Encyclopedia Britannica. Others believe that the main issue with wikipedia is trusting in it blindly. Wikipedia can have errors and it's important to check the information. Perhaps an important lesson we can learn is that all sources (since they were created by people) can have errors and should be evaluated. Wikipedia can (and does) conatain errors, but so does the Encyclopedia Brittainica and many other sources. Evaluate every source by checking the information with other sources. If one says something totally different, then you know that they're may be an issue.
  • A Reasonable Conclusion
  • So where does that leave us? Basically my policy (and I believe many other teacher's) is that wikipedia is a great source to get basic information, but don't use it as a cited source. Middlebury College in Vermont recently took this position. If you read that article, you'll find a very sensible solution. Wikipedia's greatest value in research paper's is the citations they used in the article. Every article should have citations to source-worthy sites. The Wikipedia article on Wikipedia has over 100 references, may of which would be perfect as a source. Read the wikipedia article, then check their sources and see if they'd be a fit for your paper.
  • In short: Use the references from wikipedia, cite them, but don't cite wikipedia itself.