Wikipedia and the collected knowledge of the world

WIKIPEDIA HAS A BAD REP with a lot of people who should know better by now. As a quick source for background information or to link a person’s name, a book, a movie, a location, an event, etc, it simply cannot be beat.

Nonetheless, we have all heard and probably said, “Oh, yeah. Right. You got from Wikipedia. Uh-huh . . .” Or some other similar snub, often by someone who hasn’t used Wikipedia in years or doesn’t use Wikipedia at all and knows nothing about it but what he has heard!

Wikipedia has gotten a bogeyman reputation for inaccuracy. Its reputation for unreliability is itself an unreliable position to take.

“Wikipedia has gotten a bogeyman reputation for inaccuracy. ‘I read it on Wikipedia’ has become a punch-line for obviously incorrect information, and any reference to Wikipedia in an article has a tendency to draw derisive comments that essentially dismiss the entire article due to the addition of a link.

I’ve come to think of it as ‘Wikipedia shaming’—deriding and discrediting an article because it happens to reference or link to Wikipedia at some point, regardless of the quality of the information presented both in the Wikipedia link and in the original article. Such views are themselves inaccurate and ill-informed. Wikipedia’s reputation for unreliability is itself an unreliable position to take.”

The above is lifted from an article titled “Stop Wikipedia Shaming” by Allison Hudson on the Skeptoid website (December 1, 2014). Ms. Hudson’s lists three recent studies that would seem to indicate that Wikipedia is anything but inaccurate:

•  In 2005, a study by Nature (the “international weekly journal of science”) found that Wikipedia’s accuracy was comparable to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

•  In 2012, a University of Oxford/Epic e-learning follow-up study released in 2012 found that Wikipedia held its own against a variety of reference works.

•  In 2014, a study of drug information on Wikipedia found that its drug-related information was 99.7% accurate compared to pharmacological textbooks.

Wikipedia and the collected knowledge of the world

When I first went to Wikipedia years ago, I was often appalled not necessarily by the inaccuracy of the facts, but the amount of wiki-editors who were allowed to implant opinions-especially the nasty ones!—as facts. This is not as prevalent now.

“If you want a more comprehensive listing of reliability studies on Wikipedia, there’s one place you can go: Wikipedia, which doesn’t shy away from reporting on the good and bad of its own content. Wikipedia keeps a running list of acknowledged hoaxes?

And you’ll notice that most of the longstanding ones were able to survive mostly because they were small, unimportant topics that people weren’t likely to be referencing anyway. Vandalism happens, but it’s usually caught fairly quickly and reverted; and the vandals are usually blocked and banned.

Wikipedia has gotten consistently better since its inception more than a decade ago. Unlike a journal article, a blog post, or the Encyclopedia Britannica, Wikipedia is constantly being updated. That’s the very nature of the wiki model: allowing the collected knowledge of the world to accrete in one place.

Wikipedia also has the Wikimedia Foundation behind it actively looking for ways to improve the information on the site, as well as an entire process of editorial control. The days of ‘you can write anything you want on Wikipedia’ are long gone.

It is for all these reasons that I do reference Wikipedia in my blog posts and I will continue to do so in the future. When I do, it’s usually for the purpose of general information, which is exactly what Wikipedia is good for.

If someone doesn’t know what ascorbic acid is, it’s much more practical, from a get-the-basics-and-get-back-to-reading perspective, to just link the reader to Wikipedia where they can read the first paragraph or two, get the idea, and then return to the original article.”

I have nothing much to add; I just wanted my readers to be aware of the fact that it is okay to cite Wikipedia. I do want to add that I am registered as a wiki-editor, although I usually keep my contributions to very factual matters.

The cartoon at the top of this page appeared in The Atlantic magazine.

PS: Sorta related is an article that I just posted on my Elvis site titled “Cybill gives elvis a little heads up.”


Just came across this TED video by Sharyl Attkisson and had to include it. For a very different and eye-opening take on the medical information that can be found on Wikipedia, go directly to 4:58 in the video. But you would be a helluvalot better off if you sat through all ten plus minutes . . .



 

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