We interrupt this broadcast for more news of the obvious

What? Wikipedia may not be accurate?

Comments (4)

  1. Mike W says:

    The sheer simple, and accurate, summation of this article is just an example of why I keep reading your blog.  Keep up the good work, Heather 🙂

  2. Lauren Smith says:

    That’s why I get all my information from blogs.

  3. Wine-Oh says:

    Oh no! This cant be. Next you will tell me the Holy Roman Empire was neither Roman nor an empire. I need a moment. 🙂

  4. Paul says:

    But, it’s better than the alternative . . . of no source at all.

    Wikipedia is roughly 15 times the size of Encyclopaedia Brittanica, with many of its articles being the most, or only, definitive source of information on a topic.  (You only need consider that 90%+ of what’s in Wikipedia isn’t covered by EB at all.)  Yes there are lots of errors, and it is susceptible to deliberate and malicious tampering, as well as genuine mistakes, but despite all that, it is only marginally less accurate than Brittanica, the gold standard of peer-reviewed, supposedly authoritative sources.

    Nature Magazine did a study in 2005 where a random sample of 42 science articles were chosen from both Brittanica and Wikipedia, and both sets submitted to experts for peer review to get a head-to-head comparison. In total, there were 123 errors found in the venerable EB, and 162 in Wikipedia, or about 3 and 4 per article respectively. A total of 4 serious errors were found in each source across the 42 articles. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v438/n7070/full/438900a.html

    What conclusions do I draw from this:

    – educators who ban Wikipedia as a source are arrogant, and put far too much faith in peer review to deliver accuracy

    – when being right is important, no one should trust any single source, unless only one source is available

    – even the hallowed, specialized, peer-reviewed academic journals which many academic institutions insist are the only valid source to use in writing a paper are littered with errors

    – be skeptical

    So yes, it is obvious that Wikipedia has errors. But, much less reported is the also obvious fact that peer review does not guarantee accuracy, and highly respected sources are also full of errors. The professors involved in banning Wikipedia should instead focus their attention on teaching better methodologies for gathering information and verifying facts, rather than declaring any source to be invalid. Their pedagogy is unsound, and their motives are suspect as they circle the wagons to attack non-academic, but equally accurate data.