To trust or not to trust Wikipedia

November 12, 2009

–posted by Jennifer

I have a set of encyclopedias, from my grandparents, published in 1957.  A lot has changed since then at least on the geopolitical front.  And there’s been a few technological advances since then as well…   like Wikipedia.  It’s one of my favorite sites.
If I were working on a scholarly article, or if I needed to do some fact checking prior to publication I would not use Wikipedia, but still I do believe it has its place– at least in my life.  First and foremost, it’s free.  I love free.  And its fast.  Just the other day I was watching a documentary on Amelia Earhart (no, not the movie with Hillary Swank but rather a real-deal documentary on the History channel).  The hour-long show centered on Earhart’s aviation career, and of course the sensational disappearance, but I was curious to know more. Where was she born? Kansas.  How did she first learn to fly? she worked a lot of jobs to save money for lesson…  Is this true? probably.  I think for basic information, to satisfy my own curiosity about a thing, Wikipedia is great.

If you’re interested in the history, the story behind Wikipedia, one of the administrators, Andrew Lih has written a book–  The Wikipedia Revolution:  How a Bunch of Nobodies Created the World’s Greatest Encyclopedia. (ironic he went the old fashioned, print and buy route rather than distributing this information for free)

I’ve not read the book, though if you’re interested you’ll find an extensive review of both the book and Wikipedia itself at Boston Review:

lihEdit This Page

Is it the end of Wikipedia?
by Evgeny Morozov

Can you trust Wikipedia? Most of us have stopped asking and simply bookmarked it. That makes sense when you consider the alternatives: you can explore the first dozen or so Google search results, or you can go straight to the occasionally erroneous Wikipedia entry, typically culled from the very same search results. If you are looking for fast, up-to-date information, it is Wikipedia or Google (not Wikipedia or Britannica), and Wikipedia wins on speed.

Wikipedia still has its critics, skeptics who doubt its merits as a reference source. But even they cannot deny the tremendous social innovation unleashed by Wikipedia-the-project. Every professional conference—on topics ranging from entrepreneurship to journalism to philanthropy—now includes the mandatory, impassioned plea for the industry to adopt The Wikipedia Model, as if it were a set of Lego pieces that could be ordered from eBay and assembled in a newsroom or on the trading floor.


What are your thoughts? How do you use Wikipedia? and more importantly, what do you tell your students?


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