Should WikiPedia be accepted as an academically viable source?

On: October 3, 2006
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About Pepijn Uitterhoeve
I'm Pepijn, a veteran Utopia player (and gamer in general). I intend to write my master thesis on Utopia, and focus mainly on the cooperative aspects. Some more stuff about me may be found here:


This question is inspired with a discussion I had this afternoon on IRC with my fellow Utopians. I believe there is already some literature out there about the trustworthiness of information on wikipedia. Below I will paste the chat (slightly edited). Since this issue strikes at the heart of what we study, it’d be neat if we could discuss about it in either the comments or in class. We may be able to change some mindsets at the University of Victoria! :)

So here’s the log of the chat:

(18:33:29) [Katrina] i wanna write my paper on that but everthings written in spanish :S
(18:34:09) [Charmed`Gone] espanol es facil
(18:37:34) [Katrina] ugh you figure a church the size of a fricken town would be easy enough to find info on…but no
(18:41:59) [Joppe] what church?
(18:42:34) [Katrina] santiago de compostela
(18:43:10) [Joppe] thats a famous pilgrimage destination
(18:43:20) [Katrina] i know
(18:43:23) [Joppe] should be plenty of information..?
(18:43:26) [Katrina] thats why i want to write about it
(18:43:30) [Katrina] yeah except its all in spanish
(18:43:31) [Katrina] :P
(18:43:54) [Woe] lol
(18:45:16) [Katrina] yeah…
(18:45:17) [Katrina] so
(18:45:56) [Peppie] tried wikipedia yet?
(18:46:01) [Woe] cant u use bablefish or something to translate the spanish websites?
(18:46:45) [Peppie] translation services are living hell :P
(18:47:22) [Woe] well, im just working with what shes got
(18:47:23) [Katrina] cant use wiki
(18:47:34) [Peppie] oh?
(18:47:39) [Katrina] yeah?
(18:47:43) [Katrina] its not an academic site
(18:47:50) [Peppie] archaic
(18:47:57) [Katrina] how so?
(18:48:15) [Katrina] there’s no way to determine if the info is actually correct, seeing as anyone can add or edit it
(18:48:15) [Peppie] because the info is reputedly not more or less accurate than encyclopedia britannica
(18:48:35) [Katrina] have you looked at some of the stuff on there?
(18:48:36) [Peppie] maybe that says more about encyclopedias than wikipedia, but still :P
(18:48:42) [Katrina] how can you tell me its correct?
(18:48:54) [Peppie] canadian, its got references
(18:49:00) [Peppie] the good articles, anyway
(18:49:09) [Katrina] I know there are a few medieval things on there anyway that are wrong
(18:49:19) [Peppie] tons of academics and professionals moderate and add and delete those sites
(18:49:28) [Katrina] edited by people who loved the divinci code…and figured it was right….
(18:49:31) [Woe] i got it! use the info on wiki. then list one of the spanish sites as the references!
(18:49:37) [Katrina] …

She does have a point. This wired article warns (in a humorous fashion) for the same dangers.

I also want to quote a bit from this study though;

“So the Wikipedia’s reliability is a contingent, empirical matter. A recent
study in the journal Nature [Gil05] compared Wikipedia and Encyclopædia
Britannica articles on a great range of scientific topics. The study concludes
that the two are not so different. It is hard to perform significance tests on
results like these, but this is how the result was summarized:

Only eight serious errors, such as misinterpretations of important
concepts, were detected in the pairs of articles reviewed, four from
each encyclopaedia. But reviewers also found many factual errors,
omissions or misleading statements: 162 and 123 in Wikipedia and
Britannica, respectively. [Gil05, p. 900–901]

The editors of Britannica replied to the study [Inc06], arguing over the methodology.
The editors of Nature replied to Brittanica’s reply [Nat06].5 As they note, there is no reason to think either that the shortcomings of the study are ‘fatal’ or that they favor Wikipedia over Britannica.”

The bit the researcher (P.D. Magnus) quotes comes from can be read in its context here.

Overall the tables seem to tilt to the Academic side, i.e. wikipedia isn’t too trustworthy and traditional sources are probably better. What do you guys think, though?


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