Wikipedia: Should we trust it?

Wikipedia has been the go-to for quick reference, study material, and even deep research. It seems to be an instinctive response for us to head to the online encyclopedia whenever we need a detailed explanation for anything at all.

First launched in 2001 by the Wikimedia Foundation, Wikipedia was created with the mission of allowing anyone to create and edit articles to share free knowledge. To date, the English version of the website has around 6.3 million entries. With over 6.1 billion visits a month and 1.9 edits per second, Wikipedia ranks as the 5th most popular website. Meaning that almost everyone with internet access has visited the website at least once in their lives. Seeing as how extensive the platform is, and the way it constantly appears at the top searches, it is no wonder why.

Though along with the online encyclopedia’s popularity, several concerns have arisen. The very nature of Wikipedia which allows anyone to edit it has made many doubt its credibility. While many may frown upon having Wikipedia cited in an academic paper, many students continue to use the free encyclopedia as a resource for school.

For starters, Wikipedia isn’t entirely unreliable. It’s a great resource to help you get to know a subject better. The number of contributors Wikipedia has allows most of their pages to be extremely detailed, with information branching from several different sources. The more citations the entry has, the more reliable and better it is. They’re there for you to verify its credibility. But since no one does that, an alternative is to check for the upper right side of the article. A bronze star marks it as a “Featured Article”, one of the best few Wikipedia has to offer. It has been thoroughly reviewed and is well written from a neutral perspective, and contains comprehensive and credible content. Another sign to look for is a green circle with a plus symbol within. It marks for a “Good Article” which meets a set of editorial standards but is not "featured article" quality in terms of comprehensiveness.

However, the majority of Wikipedia articles are neither a "good" nor "featured article". They are prone to biased editing and vandalism. Wikipedia has a history of citogenesis (a portmanteau of citation genesis), which starts when an editor generates random facts and enters them into a Wikipedia article. This causes a rushed journalist, who visits Wikipedia for a quick fact check, to incorporate the false information into his writing. The journal is then published and other Wikipedia editors cite it to support the falsified information in the Wikipedia article. Future writers who see the journal and Wikipedia as reliable sources cite it and the cycle repeats.

Extreme as the example may be, it only happens in rare cases where the vandal is persistent, or the journalist is simply unlucky. Evidence suggests that Wikipedia vandalisms are corrected within an hour by editors who constantly sweep the encyclopedia. Although, this is not necessarily true for less popular articles. In those cases, vandalism can go uncorrected for as long as a year.

It is wise to keep in mind that, similarly to any information online, those in Wikipedia should not be readily accepted. It is fine to use Wikipedia to start your research, to familiarize yourself with the subject. But the research should never with Wikipedia. It is discouraged to cite the encyclopedia—thanking it in your heart is fine enough, simply consider it as a compilation of various sources which you have checked and cited in your paper.









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