Wednesday, November 28, 2012

How Wicked is Wikipedia?

Almost every professor I had at college told their students not to use Wikipedia as a source for their papers. They did say that it was a good place to start to gather information to start research with, but never to rely on it wholly. I heard the same spiel when I was in high school.

I understood on some level that it wasn't completely trustworthy. It is after all an amalgamation of knowledge from individuals around the world and while there are monitors and editors on the site you never know how often misinformation might be added to a page.

The incident that best demonstrates the sharing of misinformation was Steven Colbert introducing and the quickly demonstrating the concept of Wikiality in the summer of 2006. Wikiality was defined on Colbert's piece The Word as, "together we can create a reality we all agree on—the reality we just agreed on."

He then went on to encourage his viewers to alter the information about elephants on Wikipedia. I was between my Junior and Senior year of high school as I watched people flock to the internet and write, "The elephant population in Africa has tripled over the last six months." Wikipedia ended up having to freeze the changes being made to the words elephant and Africa as a result.

Because this was such a highly publicized event Wikipedia responded very quickly, but the idea still stands that any article could be altered by anyone all too quickly.

That being said, I've never found any inaccuracies in my use of Wikipedia. I did as my teachers suggested and followed the sources at the bottom of each page and I used books at the library regularly. In fact I like finding physical sources more than I like using the internet when it comes to research.

Mostly I find a guilty pleasure in checking out a book that hasn't been used since before the seventies or eighties. I did it several times when I was at college and nothing gave me such a thrill as seeing a book getting it's stamp card taken out and replaced with security and due date stickers.

This week I've been doing my research on viruses exclusively on Wikipedia. Over the next few days I'll go through and find primary sources to back up the information I found.

I'm just curious if anyone has some wild or wicked Wikipedia stories out there. Rest assured, I will let you know if I find anything interesting.

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