Don’t use Wikipedia as a source

by Fredrik Savin on 12/03/2008 · 0 comments

I have seen many students use Wikipedia as a source for academic reports. Perhaps even worse, many of these students have referred to articles published on the website in their bibliographies. Wikipedia is great for checking general knowledge you have forgotten and some articles do provide a good reference list. However, you shouldn’t under any circumstances use the online-based encyclopaedia as a source.

Wikipedia is what many refer to as a “wiki”, a server program that allows its users to collaborate in forming the content of a website. Companies can use wikis to create effective intranets and for Knowledge Management activities. A detailed article on the wiki concept and its pros and cons can be found here.

One of the primary concerns about Wikipedia is that it’s openly edited, i.e. anyone can change or update entries. Even the website’s co-founder, Jimmy Wales, has said that it shouldn’t be used as an academic source.

You can use a tool called WikiScanner to get an understanding of how inaccurate information published on Wikipedia can be. The tool allows you to cross-reference the IP address of thousands of Wikipedia edits made anonymously with the IP address of organisations from around the world. This result in a service which allows you to see which organisations were responsible for editing any article you choose.

Wired, an American magazine, has published a list of salacious edits made by different organisations. For example, an IP address belonging to Waggener Edstrom, Microsoft’s PR firm, edited a page about MSN Search to say that it was a major competitor of Google.

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