Reliability of Wikipedia
Posted by knockels on 13 February, 2009
Read recently an interesting piece on the Guardian blogs, by Marcel Berlins. He starts by arguing that Wikipedia is fundamentally flawed, as it allows anyone to edit without having their credentials checked. As evidence for this he cites some examples of people’s biographies being inaccurate (people being declared dead, for example, when they are not – mind you, the Guardian obits page itself has done this, I think). But he ends by saying that to change Wikipedia so that this vetting occurs would be unmanageable, and therefore we need to accept that its usefulness comes at a price.
This has set me thinking. I can see that articles about things where political opinions generate a lot of heat might well be open to abuse or misuse, with frequent edits and more opinions than fact. I would be loath to see medical students rely on Wikipedia when there are sources with more obvious provenance available.
But I suspect that articles about things where there are plenty of enthusastic amateurs (morris dancing, for example) may be very useful, up to date, and accurate, and that the discussion page attached to the article will document all the angels dancing on the head of a pin sort of arguments that ensue.
I run a web evaluation exercise with second year genetics students, where they choose two websites from a list I supply. One has to be one that they think is suitable to use in academic work (and they have a list of criteria to use to help them evaluate), and the other one one that is unsuitable. Some of the sites are obviously fine, and others obviously not, but I have included a Wikipedia page. Last year was interesting, and this year will be too, I think!