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?

14 Responses to “Should WikiPedia be accepted as an academically viable source?”
  • October 4, 2006 at 1:06 pm

    comment, you bastards.

  • October 4, 2006 at 1:17 pm

    Interesting debate, and we nearly started it a while back in class with the debate about the project.

    I’ve just finished reading Dan Gillmor’s book We The Media, and although it is from 2004, he mentions that information needs to be verified and you need to know the source of the information. A call for using common sense when publishing in the press.

    When using Wikipedia you should always trace back information the the original source. Because I wouldn’t trust opinions and debated information on Wikipedia. No content on Wikipedia is (in my knowledge) intended to be original data, or originally published content. But Wikipedia is a good director to original sources, and sets up good links between the various subjects.

    My conclusion on Wikipedia for a while now has been: Only use information straight from the source.

  • October 4, 2006 at 2:39 pm

    Maybe we need the Semantic Web after all. One level of the Semantic Web is the so-called ‘Web of Trust’ which works with digital signatures. It is a way to verify who is trustworthy or not, wether it’s a company asking for your credit card information when putting in an order or wether it’s someone writing for Wikipedia. In this way some kind of rating for the credibility of an article could be achieved. When an article has been written/edited by several (verified through their digital signature) academics the credibility rate would be higher than an article which has been written/edited by highschool students.

  • October 4, 2006 at 2:55 pm

    Web of Trust is a good idea, the rating systems and all. But what about abuse of this system? Groups that rate a publisher very low, not because of the content, but because of his opinion or something. This would maybe just add another layer to the Web of Trust.

    Who can be trusted to rate in the Web of Trust?

  • October 4, 2006 at 3:00 pm

    Nice issue. If I had some spare time today I would be all over the web trying to find this one out :)

  • October 4, 2006 at 9:15 pm

    I raised the issue on the Fibreculture list a few weeks ago and this caused an interesting debate. I started with posting the proposed guidelines that Alan Liu from UC Santa Barbara wrote.


  • March 27, 2007 at 12:06 am

    I searched on several websites about Web of Trust. The first research result on Google is Web of Trust from Wikipedia. It results most users tempted to rely on Wikipedia resource. Is because Wikipedia is most viewed website on Google research engine or Google is support the resource from Wikipedia. If so, search engines like Google should also responsible to their research sources. Then again, Google clearly stated they are not interferes the freedom of user’s choice, so does Wikipedia. I don’t if it’s correct. Can anyone explain to me?

  • March 27, 2007 at 10:23 am

    Its rather funny after reading about the numbers of errors in Brittanica closely corresponds the same amount in Wikipedia, as our school librarian strongly dislikes Wikipedia, yet accepts Britannica as definite source. I’m not saying Wikipedia is better than Britannica but it just goes to show that nobody’s perfect especially when editing encyclopedias is your profession, as well as technology can be used more the most part correctly when dealing with the entire online community.

  • March 27, 2007 at 10:27 am

    Wikipedia ends up as the number one search result for “Web of Trust” on Google due to Google’s search algorithm.
    Searching for “Web of Trust” on Google Scholar brings up different results which obviously point in a more academic direction. (NOTE: I know there are other search engines than Google, but just using Google Scholar instead of the regular Google makes a lot of difference sometimes).
    I would suggest looking up Tim Berner Lee who mentions the Web of Trust in his book “Weaving the Web”. And Tim Berners Lee sees trust as an important aspect of the Semantic Web.

  • March 28, 2007 at 5:11 pm

    Being English, I am shocked to find that something with “Britain” in its name contained so many errors: shame on encyclopedia Brittanica. I was wondering whether any further studies have been made comparing Wikipedia and other more academic sources of information: does anyone know? Oh, this is for to the MASTERS OF MEDIA. Is it possible to get one of your T-shirts? Thanks

  • March 29, 2007 at 11:10 am

    Dear Andrew,

    Thank you for your interest in our t-shirts. We are currently investigating whether we’ll set up a small online store. Please bear with us.


  • March 29, 2007 at 3:50 pm

    A small online store, please :p

    Although, if we’d sell one shirt, we’d have passed the adrevenue generated so far!

  • March 29, 2007 at 9:14 pm

    Hi, agreeing with Andrew… those T-shirts are quite priceless.

    I remain curious as to where professionals or, say, experts, stand on the topic of Wikipedia and Britannica. If both are flawed, what makes either encyclopedia a viable or more popular source?

    Do you know whether educators are aware of the similarities between encyclopedia Britannica and Wikipedia, and that their beloved “assumed” valid source (britannica) is just as unreliable as Wikipedia?

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