Tag Archives: Wikipedia

Wikipedia and Research

I’m sure you’ve all heard the warnings about Wikipedia: Don’t use it! Steer clear of Wikipedia! It can be edited by anyone!

You can use Wikipedia, just use it responsibly. And how do you do that? Here are a few examples on how to use Wikipedia responsibly.

When I lived in Pittsburgh, I read an article about jitneys being held up. What’s a jitney? I went to Wikipedia and got the disambiguation page. Ah, that was enough for me to understand what the article was about. If I was writing about jitneys in my ALWR, I would not cite Wikipedia. Nope. Wikipedia’s just a starting point. The first option, Share Taxi, has few citations and is disputed. So I’d go back to the disambiguation page and go the next option, Dollar van. Again, this one is suggested to be merged with another, but does have a few citations I would check out from government agencies. This is a good starting point for something I knew nothing about a few minutes ago!

Now, how can we tell whether a Wikipedia entry is a good source of information or not? Consider the entry about Hurricane Sandy. On it’s face, it looks to be a good entry. Lots of citations to reliable outside sources. But who actually wrote it and edited it? At the top of the entry, select the “View History” tab. This is the actual history of what was written on the Hurricane Sandy entry. Here’s where things get rather interesting. There is no mention of global warming or climate change. Every mention is “scrubbed” from the entry by Ken Marmpel, who refers to himself as just a contributor, “I have no title, I’m just a Joe Blow.” Yes indeed, this is where the danger of relying solely on Wikipedia lies. Anyone can edit an entry, and can direct the tone and message of the entry.

In summary, the value of Wikipedia lies in the sources it can lead you to, not in the entry itself.