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

Bram Dov Abramson bda at bazu.org
Sun Dec 4 21:47:12 PST 2005

>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.

>- Compounding the above point is the fact that Wikipedia's quality 
>assurance mechanism only works on a macro-level. We have little 
>information about whether individual articles have been properly vetted 
>by many users at a specific point. We end up deciding in general
>whether we believe the mechanism works or not.

I agree that a lot of the articles on Wikipedia are not great.  As a
reference tool, Wikipedia is interesting but not necessarily
authoritative.  Sure.

Recently I've been discovering Wikipedia, and my thoughts had run in a
different direction.  Has anyone integrated Wikipedia into their
courses, not as a source, but as a destination?  Are there courses out
there where students are being asked to *update* Wikipedia?

(Wikipedia's quality assurance mechanism -- talking things out, seeking
intervention, going to third party arbitrators -- assumes the
possibility of rational resolution and is hard to understand besides.
It needs a lot of work, particularly in having people produce concise
guides making what's already there more readily understandable.  Still,
that doesn't mean it need be dismissed as a "brute force" approach!
Something more is going on there, I think.)

>- One common tool that people use to make decisions about information 
>quality is authorship. But in the name of promoting the 
>commons-authorship model, Wikipedia actually obscures the notion of the 
>author at an individual level. If you wanted to find out who wrote an 
>individual piece an article, there would be no reasonable way to do 

It's true that wading into page histories can be time-consuming.  But
it's not *that* bad.  Whether it is based on the other things they have
written on Wikipedia or on their choice to stitch the Wikipedia identity
to a real-world one, though, the reputation mechanism is still around --
though less foregrounded.

If making the reputation mechanism more prominent would help Wikipedia,
there are probably ways to do so within the existing structure.  An
individual could draft the article (or major changes to it), make the
edit on Wikipedia, and leave a link on the Discussion page to the frozen
version that that person had written -- allowing people to identify the
author and consult it directly.

The converse is true, too: the MediaWiki package makes it easy to gather
links to all of one's edits on a single page.  In fact, one could create
an off-site list of "trusted authors" and the articles they had written,
or edited, etc.  Heck, I wonder what would happen if a group of
academics decided to produce an encyclopedia and publish its results on
Wikipedia -- and, simultaneously elsewhere, either online or in paper.
The two sets of articles would gradually diverge.  Third parties could
decide which, if either, they wanted to consider authoritative.

Sorry to natter on.  I do understand that the original point was much
smaller, ie to keep students thinking about the quality of their
sources, and I agree with most of what's been said.  Still, I can't help
but think that Wikipedia is much more interesting as an opportunity.


More information about the Air-L mailing list