Wikipedia collected knowledge of the world for us and by us

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 it 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. ‘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.

 

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’s rep­u­ta­tion for un­re­li­a­bility is it­self an un­re­li­able po­si­tion to take—mostly.

 

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.

 

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