I hear a lot of interesting talk at schools these days about Wikipedia. If you aren’t familiar with Wikipedia, it proclaims itself as “the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.”

The conversations about Wikipedia around schools range from schools who are banning it as a valid research resource to those to aren’t aware of how Wikipedia differs from other souces like Encyclopaedia Britannica or Encarta. (Many teachers seem to have picked up on the “free” part, but not the fact that it is editable by anyone.)

So, back to “the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit”…??? I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up I thought that encyclopedias were something created by really smart guys somewhere, not just anyone. As a result, my initial reaction to Wikipedia was skepticism.

However, research has shown that the accuracy of Wikipedia is comparable to mainstream sources such as Encyclopaedia Britannica. (This is the power of active wikis. More on that in a future post.) My own experience with Wikipedia is that it gives you everything that more traditional sources gives you plus a lot more.

The real point here that we as educators need to help our students understand is that no source of information is definitive. Every source has its strengths and weaknesses, its biases and perspectives.

When I use Wikipedia (or any other research resource, for that matter), I generally open it in one browser windows and another source in another window. (It’s sometimes amazing to find three or four different reputable resources with completely different portrayals of the “facts.”)

In the current days of the Internet, podcasts, wikis, and more new sources of information every day, we should all be critical consumers of information and use multiple sources. Given that, Wikipedia is usually on my list of sources to consult.

Tagged on:

2 thoughts on “Wikipedia

  • September 5, 2006 at 1:21 pm

    Actually, the Nature article you cite, even if accepted at face value, found Wikipedia to be 33% more inaccurate than Britannica, with 4 errors found in Wikipedia for every 3 found in EB.

    And of course, not all errors are created equal. For instance, a Nature reviewer prefers the spelling “Crotona” to Britannica’s “Crotone”. The proper English spelling of the name of this Italian town might be a bit hard to pin down, but the U.S. Board on Geographic Names and other sources agree with Britannica on this. Nature reviewers cited some Wikipedia articles as “highly misleading” or “absoultely wrong”. Are these problems really comparable? Nature reported them as if they were.

    Although several errors within Britannica were identified by the Nature review (and corrected as fast if not faster than the errors in Wikipedia), Britannica wrote a detailed response to the study, citing profound errors in the study’s premise and methodology. For instance, Nature sent one reviewer a 300 word introduction to a 6500 word EB article, who cited the Britannica article for omitting key information (that was covered in the 6200 words the reviewer didn’t see). See http://corporate.britannica.com/britannica_nature_response.pdf for more.

  • September 13, 2006 at 8:26 am

    Yes, and then Nature responded to that in their own article: http://www.nature.com/nature/britannica/index.html. (Nature did categorize certain “serious errors,” the number of which they found to be comparable in both publications.)

    The real point is that there are probably inaccuracies in all sources. Every source, including Wikipedia and Britannica, has its strengths and weaknesses.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.