[Air-l] Wikipedia warning -- Wikipedia is not a reliable information source
ken.friedman at bi.no
Sun Dec 4 13:50:13 PST 2005
Quick response to comments and questions
1) Ulf-Dietrich Reips asks, "How many citations of Wikipedia entries
have your students really handed in to you that were a) not backed up
by another source, and, b) found to be inaccurate?"
I did not keep count. I have noticed a significant increase in
Wikipedia use over the past year, and I notice that students who DO
use Wikipedia often use it as a single source. The inaccuracies I
observe tend to be a difference between these students and those who
draw on a wide range of sources. This is a simple way to push them in
My focus is on using multiple sources regardless of how good any one
source may be. Given the use of Wikipedia as a proxy for research, my
simple counterbalance is a proxy measure for those who do not search
more widely in the first place.
2) Judd Antin writes, "For my own part, I often find that Wikipedia
is a valuable place to start exploration, especially in areas that I
know little about. Wikipedia articles often provide me with the
background and context I need to begin exploration. This, IMHO, is
the type of use we should promote."
Without disagreeing with or contesting Judd's other points, I want to
say that Judd and I agree here. I don't tell students not to use
Wikipedia at all. It is a good starting point for background
information and leads.
What I tell students them is that I no longer accept Wikipedia as a
source. As Judd writes, Wikipedia macro-level principle works, but
the micro-level is too often flawed. While tools like the History
Flow are interesting for those who want to research an article, I'd
rather have students check multiple sources than myself have to check
each article -- and its provenance -- when I see a Wikipedia
reference. I do not wish to be a fact checker for student research
3) Peter Steinberger writes, "To be consequent you have to ban all
other Internet sources too. And all the magazines that are peer
reviewed too, because lately they made some major mistakes too."
I don't see it this way. There are many good on-line sources, and I
work with students teaching them how to explore, evaluate, and use
multiple sources comparatively, including on-line sources. The issue
here is the likelihood of major mistakes, and especially the
unchecked occurrence of malicious hoaxes and fraud. You may defraud a
scholarly journal, but you must do so by faking your evidence in a
sophisticated way and getting it past the reviewers. All it takes to
defraud Wikipedia and set fake facts loose is to log on and write --
or rewrite -- an entry.
For the moment, I argue that prohibiting Wikipedia as a source will
enhance the debate by increasing the pressure on Wikipedia to find a
better correction mechanism.
4) Jill Walker writes, "Our department has recently instated a
similar prohibition against using the Wikipedia as a source in
student papers. Our line has been that the Wikipedia is one of many
useful places to start doing research on a topic, but that it is
rarely valid as a final source for research. Many articles do provide
good overviews and more importantly, they often link to primary
sources which CAN be good, citable resources in student papers."
Thanks for this note. Again, I agree, and I find myself in agreement
with the other issues she raises as well. One note: this is not a
school policy. It is my own policy. I have proposed this at the
department level, though, and I plan to take it up the line.
5) Ulf-Dietrich Reips correctly notes that I misspelled John
Seigenthaler's name. Alas, I did so twice. And I just did it again
before correcting myself. But my note was not the "source" on
Seigenthaler, and the sources I gave had it right. Rather, this was
My note was a source of information on a situation and my action in
response to the situation.
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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