It is a popular convention to believe that Wikipedia, the online editable encyclopedic source used by millions around the world, is an unwise resource to use. I’m sure many can attest to the professors and others who have derided the site for it’s openness to anyone taking part in the pursuit and cataloging of knowledge, of all shapes and sizes. The liberalization of information makes many have the impression that the site has no credibility, feeling that having everyone have a say brings down the viability of what is stated/mentioned. But, is such a viewpoint valid?
Contrary to popular belief, Wikipedia isn’t as open as one might think. As having taken part in Wikipedia exploits, I can mention some of them here. Many, if not most, major articles on the the site are either semi or fully blocked from conventional editing, keeping additions from being made unless they are made by a user that (1) has an account and (2) has built a good reputation with the site. Some pages (and maps, diagrams, etc.) are many times a collaborative effort where users will actually debate on a discussion page over how additions, subtractions, or other things are implemented. Any edit that is made without the consent of others can be removed, and if it escalates into “edit-warring” (back and forth removing and adding things), it could lead to users losing site privileges and/or a page being locked down. This is led by a structure of administrators, bureaucrats, and stewards that aim to uphold Wikipedia’s adherence to accurate and cited sourcing and non-biased (as possible) reporting. Since the floor is open to many as opposed to few editors, which many encyclopedias and other publications don’t have, the site actually has the best chance of having many take part in cataloging information that may be of different viewpoints.
About 10 years ago, Nature Magazine published a study where 42 articles from Encyclopedia Britannica and Wikipedia were distributed to experts of various fields, without notifying any of the origin of each article. The results found that there was no significant difference in accuracy between the two publications, with about the same number of errors found in both (though because Wikipedia entries tended to be longer than EB’s entries, they actually have fewer errors per amount of info). The Library Journal in 2006 concluded that Wikipedia “may be granted the librarian’s seal of approval,” after being reviewed by librarians, whom they call “the toughest critics of reference materials, whatever their format.” PC Authority Magazine deliberately altered articles on Wikipedia to see how quickly errors were corrected. Within an hour, all but one were corrected, with the other being fixed in just over the hour. Among experts in it’s final page, two of the three (Dr. Oliver Downing – retired lecturer in Pharmacology from the University of Ashton in England, and Dr. Chris Clark – historian from St. Catherine’s College at Cambridge) found Wikipedia to be reliable and good within their fields of inquiry. The third, geologist Glen Burridge, while ultimately supporting other publications, still found Wikipedia to be “broadly accurate in what it covered” concerning material relevant to his field.
So, despite conventional beliefs concerning it, Wikipedia offers a truly remarkable experience…a true liberalization in the reporting and substantiation of knowledge, proving that you don’t need a degree and/or certification in order to take part in such activities. Even if information might not be at the optimal level at times, the site offers much in cited sources that can be the benchmark of any research endeavor. A truly awesome spectacle.