[Air-l] Wikipedia warning -- Wikipedia is not a reliable information source

Ken Friedman ken.friedman at bi.no
Sun Dec 4 11:02:17 PST 2005

Dear Colleagues,

This letter is a suggestion that you address the problem of bad 
information in student papers from an increasingly poor source: 
Wikipedia. Wikipedia is not getting better. It is getting worse. One 
reason for this is the apparent case that the status of Wikipedia as 
a much-used reference resource makes it the target of opportunity for 
hoax efforts that would never enter an edited reference text.

There are now enough serious incidents of false and defamatory 
information in Wikipedia biographies to warrant prohibiting this as a 
reference source in universities and university-level professional 
schools. The same is true of inaccurate or false assertions in many 

The problem with Wikipedia is not that the Wiki system MAY develop a 
solid and reliable reference work, but that in the current form, it 
DOES NOT. It is as easy to change an article for the worse as for the 

Nearly any university student today has access to a decent library 
and good on-line reference texts. In addition, anyone willing to 
search a bit will also fine outstanding SIGNED references sources by 
major scholars in many fields, as well as useful albeit older 
versions of respected references source no longer covered by 

The current scandal concerning a false and defamatory biography of 
Robert Kennedy aide and friend John Siegenthaler (see below) and 
similar recent cases lead me to conclude that Wikipedia has no way to 
prevent problems like this from happening. This is made worse by the 
fact that Wikipedia is an automatic flow-through resource for other 
on-line sources.

Wikipedia is unacceptable as a research tool.

I have informed my students that they may no longer use Wikipedia as 
a reference or source on papers in my courses. I urge you to consider 
a similar statement. While Wikipedia may be a useful first step in 
seeking information, I no longer accept it as a credible source. 
Therefore, I advise students to look further when a project requires 
a reliable source.

Use of Wikipedia by students and researchers is an important 
validation mechanism for Wikipedia.

If enough of us prohibit Wikipedia as a reference source in our 
courses, programs, and schools, the message will eventually get 

When it does, Wikipedia will find an appropriate way to monitor 
contributions. If they do not, the reputation of Wikipedia will sink 
to that of another crank web site.


Ken Friedman

The Siegenthaler case in the New York Times and USA Today via Yahoo:




Ken Friedman
Professor of Leadership and Strategic Design
Institute for Communication, Culture, and Language
Norwegian School of Management

Design Research Center
Denmark's Design School

email: ken.friedman at bi.no

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