Why you shouldn’t rely on Wikipedia for research

Wikipedia is a great website. If there is anyone out there who isn’t familiar, Wikipedia is an on-line encyclopedia, updated constantly by thousands of verified editors (except for when it isn’t. More on that later) that is a storehouse of knowledge about any person, place, thing, or concept a person could think of. Each page is cross-referenced to other Wikipedia pages, as well as to outside sites.

Can you be sure the Wiki info is accurate? photo by jurvetson

Wikipedia is without question one of the best, most informative, and most helpful sites on the internet. Which has in turn made it double-edged sword. Because now it is so widely accepted, people tend to accept what they read on it without doubting it. If it’s written on Wikipedia, it must be true, right?

Right?

The advent of these kind of sites, as well as search engines in general, is that people have become increasingly reliant on them. There is less cross-referencing done, which is dangerous because of the liquid nature of the internet and the knowledge it stores. It is also dangerous because any hacker with decent level computer skills can disrupt or alter these sites, and start disseminating false information.

Because there is less cross-referencing and double-checking, because people trust Wikipedia and other sites, there is a greater chance that people will accept ANYTHING they read, without searching for outside verification.

For someone looking up information on an old childhood toy, or a particular episode of a television program, then false information may or may not be that detrimental or important. However, for a student, it can lead to major trouble.

Using an online resource for substantial information – researching historical dates, personal biographies, or scientific data – could lead to getting poorer grades. If the information you are using isn’t properly vetted, then the paper you are writing, the post you are making, or the question you are answering could all end up being wrong.

I’m not suggesting that a student shouldn’t use Wikipedia as a resource. It’s a terrific starting point. I’m saying that an over-reliance on this, or any other individual website, could hinder your education.

In the days before the internet, the only place to do research was a library. And instructors didn’t allow you to only cite one book as a reference. In order to verify what you were saying, multiple resources needed to be cited. This helped ensure the veracity of the information. Now with the internet having so much information at our fingertips, a trip to a library may seem too troublesome for some students.

“I don’t have to cite three books, I’ll just cite three different web pages,” Is a common argument. But when so many web pages just take information from one another (without bothering to verify it) then a student may just be getting the same wrong information that has been cut-and-pasted from Wikipedia.

This blog is a word of caution. I love Wikipedia and use it every day. But I’ve also seen hacked Wiki pages presenting blatantly false information. Don’t let these kind of mistakes get in the way of your grades, your schooling, or your education. You’re better than that.

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