Home > Philosophy > “Using Wikipedia? – You Fool!” (In Defense of Wikipedia)

“Using Wikipedia? – You Fool!” (In Defense of Wikipedia)

“You  quoted Wikipedia?  Hah! I can now dismiss everything you have to say. Wikipedia is not a reliable source silly person. Everyone knows that!”

Ever hear that one or something like it? I know I have. Not directed at me, but at others. And it always bothers me.

I agree one should never cite Wikipedia as an academic source or as direct evidence of a claim.  But that doesn’t mean one can just dismiss a point being made that links to Wikipedia. Wikipedia is an excellent explanatory resource; one of the best on the Internet. It is a great source of information, and for the most part reliable.

Some people seem to think that, because one should not “cite” Wikipedia as academic evidence for the validity of a claim, that Wikipedia is unreliable, should not be used, or should not be pointed to.

They misunderstand the difference between primary /secondary sources, and tertiary sources that point to primary and secondary sources. Tertiary sources condense or consolidate primary and secondary source material into one place.

All encyclopedias are the latter, tertiary sources (though some have elements of secondary sources). The point here is that NO encyclopedia should be used as an academic source or for absolute evidence of a claim.  On the other hand quoting an encyclopedia is fine if the information is pertinent and has explanatory power. No one would complain if they were asked to read something from Encyclopedia Britannica or some other encyclopedia.

This brings me to the validity of Wikipedia compared to other encyclopedias, and this is where I disagree with the person who dismisses Wikipedia off-hand.

Wikipedia themself say they are not a credible or authoritative source for a research paper citation, etc.  But again, this is simply because they are a tertiary source, which should only be a starting point for research.

The biggest factor that gets some people to automatically dismiss Wikipedia: It can be updated by anyone.  Anyone! Someone that is crazier than a loon wearing high heels on Sunday can update a Wikipedia article.

So let’s go over the ups and downs for this. It certainly has its downsides, but I would suggest the upsides override them. Take another encyclopedia for example. For such an encyclopedia, the information is gathered and put together by a group of people who work for the company (ie. Encyclopedia Britannica). It is researched, checked by a much smaller group than Wikipedia, and is just as susceptible to faulty information.

Wikipedia, however, is open to a much larger group of editors – the public. This includes people who are actual experts for any given Wikipedia article.  If some joker hops on and makes a false change in an article, it will quickly be looked at by others and fixed. In many cases an almost instantaneous process.

Per Wikipedia: “Every day, hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world collectively make tens of thousands of edits and create thousands of new articles to augment the knowledge held by the Wikipedia encyclopedia.”

Unlike static encyclopedias, this allows for a flow of ever-changing and improving  information. This is a good thing.  The continual editing of Wikipedia articles , over time, “generally results in an upward trend of quality and a growing consensus over a neutral representation of information”.

The downside is, for starting Wikipedia articles, they may not be of quality as of yet. But the longer an article exists and the more hands in updating the information and citations, the better and more reliable it gets. This is a new media source that brings knowledge and access to knowledge to the table that no other encyclopedia does.

For those that claim it is unreliable, well, if they actually go to the bottom of any Wikipedia page they will usually see a list of citations and links that they can follow and research the actual source of information, if they were so inclined.

Wikipedia is information sharing at its best, and people need to think before they knock it down for short comings that are more that made up for. I say support Wikipedia. It is one of the best sites on the web.

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  1. May 19, 2012 at 8:30 PM

    Oh, you’re right on the money, Trick! If I need a bit of information, like, e.g., what does the term “moniliform” mean as applied to insect antennae? – I can look up “moniliform antennae” in Wikipedia, and while they have no article on that, it refers me to other articles, including one on insect morphology, which has a section on antennae, including great diagrams, and I quickly learn: “moniliform: These forms of antennae have round segments that make the antenna look like a string of beads (e.g. Coleoptera)” (and Isoptera, too, by the way – that is, termites). I have no reason to discern any error in that – in fact, I happen to know it’s accurate. Wikipedia is simply the best and fastest source around for quick facts – they provide a great service.
    Of course, I did once encounter a typo that had the tiny little elf owl that lives in cactuses in Arizona laying clutches of 30 eggs, but a quick check of another website showed me it should have been three. So you do need to be skeptical, but that’s true regarding all so-called experts on the internet.

    • May 19, 2012 at 8:43 PM

      Exactly. It is such a great resource.

      I just looked up elf owl…and presto…shows 3 eggs now. So someone fixed it. That is what I mean, it is a self fixing system. But you are right – hafta be careful for any resource. Even Encyclopedia Britannica has typos and mistakes, and not nearly as much great content. :)

  2. May 19, 2012 at 9:26 PM

    You have covered the matter proficiently. Tertiary sources – well I would never footnote from the encyclopedia but I always used one for preliminary read for any paper I had to write. It gave me all the background and helped organize an outline or map of how I would write the paper. On the other hand some encyclopedias seem worthy of citation as the article is authored by a noteworthy person with academic credentials. While I seldom foot noted from encyclopedia I included them in bibliography.

    • May 19, 2012 at 9:58 PM

      Indeed! :) As always thanks for the visit Carl.

  3. May 19, 2012 at 11:58 PM

    I have to agree with you. I cite Wikipedia all the time – on my blog. As you said, of course, I wouldn’t cite it in an academic paper, just as you wouldn’t cite any other encyclopedia. I’ve found most of the articles on Wikipedia well researched. At the very least, they provide a brief explanation that often leads to a better understanding. How can that be bad?

    • May 20, 2012 at 7:29 AM

      Yeah exactly. The only reason I bring up this topic is, due to my need to debate people or watch others debating people, keep coming across people dismissing that validity of Wikipedia off-hand…instead of considering it as just another way to share a piece of information.

  4. May 19, 2012 at 11:59 PM

    Cool drawing, by the way…

    • May 20, 2012 at 7:30 AM

      Thanks! :) Always gotta doodle something up for each blog post, just had no idea what to doodle for this one. ;)

      • May 20, 2012 at 3:37 PM

        It’s a good one. Reminds me of the ninja turtles. :)

      • May 20, 2012 at 3:40 PM

        Hahah…was supposed to be a shield, not a shell. Oh well. :D

  5. May 27, 2012 at 1:23 PM

    I use Wiki for normal info, but never for scientific research.

    I like Wiki. I always click it when I see the site on my search.

    • May 28, 2012 at 3:16 PM

      It has a lot of scientific info and knowledge in it, but you are right, if applying to your own research the scientific method demands that you go right to the source (ie. peer reviewed journals). In that case such sites can help point a person in the right direction.

      Thanks for the visit. :)

  6. May 28, 2012 at 3:20 AM

    Thank you for your visit to art rat cafe. I’ve been cruising your site and enjoying your quirky, creative and original art and ideas. I look forward to exploring your work in more depth…

    • May 28, 2012 at 2:47 PM

      Thanks a bunch! I like the art rat cafe setup you got going on. Glad you stopped by. :)

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