Is Wikipedia a Reliable Research Tool?
Wikipedia often comes up near the top when you do a Google topic search. It is used by millions of people as a research tool, but is it a reliable source of information? Increasingly, Wikipedia is coming under scrutiny for providing biased and inaccurate information. There are three main issues:
Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, conceived a notion of ”Neutral Point of View” (NPOV) for Wikipedia submissions, but it is extremely easy to find bias in articles. If people attempt to offer documented differing views, they are often quickly deleted by topic editors or others. The “consensus” about what to include at Wikipedia is created only by those who frequent the site, not a cross-section of people. It is estimated that only 615 people edit 50% of the articles, so it is not the universal pool of knowledge that many people think it is.
Non-Expert Article Authors
The idea that “anyone” can add or edit Wikipedia is not true. Recently, diverse contributors such as the CIA, various corporations and the Australian Prime Minister’s Office have been “caught” editing Wikipedia. How could they be “caught” if “anyone” can edit it? This goes back to the issue of bias. It seems Wikipedia authors and topic editors don’t want to give voice to alternate viewpoints, even though the CIA, corporations or others can add to the greater body of knowledge. Wikipedians use a special software program to search article changes, and it is designed to ”out” contributors perceived as “the bad guys.” This, of course, makes Wikipedia dramatically less useful as a resource.
“Guardians” Perpetuate Bias
No one is accountable for factual accuracy at Wikipedia. In the old Encyclopedia Britannica, only scholars were assigned to write articles, and the publishing company had an army of people in their editorial offices checking facts. With Wikipedia, any 10 year-old can write an article, and there is no reputable fact-checking. Wikipedia itself says there are tens of thousands of references in the English version that need to be documented. In its General Disclaimer, Wikipedia says, “Wikipedia cannot guarantee the validity of the information found here.” Valid information is the Holy Grail of researchers, but Wikipedia cannot offer that.
Educators in elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, and in universities like UCLA and the University of Pennsylvania have banned Wikipedia citations in student research papers. Even though people do use it, most respondents to an MSNBC random poll did not give Wikipedia much credibility. Only 19% said they trusted it, 33% said they didn’t trust it, and 49% said they thought it was only a “starting point on the way to more credible research.”
Should You Quote Wikipedia in Your Writing?
Should Christian writers rely on Wikipedia as a resource? Those who do are running the risk of damaging their own credibility. You may wish to consult it to find links to more reliable resources, but be careful about the accuracy of what you find there. Think twice about quoting it as a source.